What is a Democracy?

The right to vote is an important part of a democracy.
The right to vote is an important part of a democracy.

Democracy is a popular system of government practiced all over the world. Democracy can be described simply as the process of governance where citizens of an administrative area have the ability to choose a representative amongst themselves to form a governing body. Democracy is seen as the most progressive form of governance due to the power of the people which contrasts with other types of governance such as absolute monarchies, dictatorships, and oligarchies where power is held by few individuals. The most important characteristics which define a democracy include legal equality, political freedom, free and fair elections, and the rule of law.

History of Democracy

The word democracy is derived from Greek terms “demos” (common people) and “Kratos” (strength). The earliest application of democracy can be traced to the ancient city-state of Athens in modern-day Greece when the ruler Cleisthenes introduced the practice of random selection of ordinary Athenians to occupy some administrative and judicial positions around 508 BC. Some historians argue that the ancient Spartans had a simplified form of democracy and practiced it earlier than the Athenians (around 700 BC) where all adult men were allowed to vote on various issues in an assembly through shouting and range voting. The modern form of democracy which is comprised of political parties was established in England in the 17th century, and then spread around the world.

Types of Democracy

While democracy is practiced all over the world, it occurs in different forms which are dictated by the constitutions of the respective countries.

Direct Democracy

The oldest form of democracy is direct democracy which is characterized by citizens participating directly in the decision-making process without the aid of elected representatives. Direct democracy borrows heavily from the ancient Athenian democracy with citizens who perform administrative tasks being picked through a lottery. This form of democracy is rarely practiced and is largely in theory.

Representative Democracy

The most common form of democracy is a representative democracy where citizens elect representatives amongst themselves to oversee their interests in government. Representative democracy is arguably the most efficient form of governance as it allows a small number of people to represent the interests of a large number of people making it time efficient. Representative democracy is used in both the parliamentary form of government as well as the presidential form of government.

Hybrid Democracy

Hybrid democracy or semi-direct democracy is the practice of incorporating aspects of direct democracy and representative democracy. It is practiced in Switzerland and a few states in the US like Vermont.

Constitutional Monarchy

Some countries in the world which were initially absolute monarchies (where one individual held absolute authority) have changed to become constitutional monarchies. In constitutional monarchies, the monarch is primarily a unifying figure and lacks most, if not all, executive powers. The government function are conducted by elected representatives.

Countries Practicing Democracy

The majority of countries in the world today practice democracy in its numerous variations. The only region in the world where democracy is rarely practiced is in the Middle East where countries are defined as absolute monarchies and include Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Other countries which do not practice any form of democracy are Swaziland, Brunei, and Vatican City.


More in Politics