- Democracy is a form of government in which the rulers are elected by the people.
- This simple definition raises many questions:
- Who are the rulers in this definition ?
- What kind of election constitutes a democratic election ?
- Who are the people who can elect the rulers or get elected as rulers ?
- Finally, what kind of a form of government is democracy ?
MAJOR DECISIONS BY ELECTED LEADERS
- In Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf led a military coup in October 1999.
- He overthrew a democratically elected government and declared himself the Chief Executive of the country.
- In 2002 he held a referendum in the country that granted him a five-year extension.
- Pakistani media, human rights organizations, and democracy activists said that the referendum was based on malpractices and fraud.
- Later in 2002, he issued a ‘ Legal Framework Order’ that amended the constitution of Pakistan.
- According to this order, the president can dismiss the national and provincial assemblies. The work of the civilian is supervised by the National Security Council which is dominated by military officers.
- After passing this law, elections were held at the national and provincial assemblies.
- So Pakistan had elections, and elected representatives have some powers. But the final power rested with military officers and general Musharraf himself.
- Hence, we can conclude it was not a democratic country.
- This happens in many dictatorships and monarchies.
- This cannot be called people’s rule.
FIRST FEATURE: In a democracy, the final decision-making power must rest with those elected by the people.
FREE AND FAIR ELECTORAL COMPETITION
- In China, elections are regularly held after every five years for electing the country’s parliament, called Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui ( National People's congress).
- The National People’s Congress has the power to appoint the president of the country.
- Before contesting elections, a candidate needs the approval of the Chinese Communist Party.
- The government is always formed by the communist party.
- Since its independence in 1930, Mexico has held elections every six years to elect its president.
- But until 2000 every election was won by a party called PRI (Institutional Revolutionary party).
- Opposition parties did contest elections but never managed to win.
- Should we consider the elections described above as examples of people electing their rulers?
From the above examples, we get a sense that we cannot.
SECOND FEATURE: Democracy must be based on a free and fair election where those currently in power have a fair chance of losing.
ONE PERSON, ONE VOTE, ONE VALUE
- Democracy is linked to the demand for Universal Adult Franchise.
- Until 2015, in Saudi Arabia women did not have the right to vote.
- Estonia has made its citizenship rules in such a way that people belonging to the Russian minority find it difficult to get the right to vote.
- In Fiji, the electoral system is such that the vote of an indigenous Fiji has more value than that of an Indian Fijian.
- Democracy is based on a fundamental principle of political equality.
THIRD FEATURE : In a democracy, each adult citizen must have one vote and each vote must have one value.
RULE OF LAW AND RESPECT FOR RIGHTS
- Zimbabwe attained independence from White minority rule in 1980.
- Since then the country has been ruled by ZANU-PF , the party that led the freedom struggle.
- Its leader, Robert Mugabe , has ruled the country since independence.
- Elections were held regularly and always won by ZANU-PF.
- President Mugabe was popular but also used unfair practices in elections.
- Public protests and demonstrations against the government were declared illegal.
- There was a law that limited the right to criticize the president.
- Television and radio were controlled by the government and gave only the ruling party’s version.
- There were independent newspapers but the government harassed those journalists who went against them.
- The example of Zimbabwe shows that popular approval of the rulers is necessary for a democracy, but not sufficient.
- Popular governments can be undemocratic.
- Popular leaders can be autocratic.
- If we wish to assess a democracy, it is important to look before and after the elections.
- There should be sufficient room for normal political activity, including political opposition, in the period before elections .
- The state should respect some basic rights of the citizens.
- Citizens should be f ree to think, have opinions, express these in public, form associations, protest, and take other political actions.
- Everyone should be equal in the eyes of law.
- These rights must be protected by an independent judiciary whose orders are obeyed by everyone.
- Similarly, some conditions apply to the way a government is run after elections.
- A democratic government cannot do whatever it likes, simply because it has won elections. It has to r espect some basic rules.
- It has to respect some guarantees to the minorities.
- Every major decision has to go through a series of consultations.
- Every office bearer has certain rights and responsibilities assigned by the constitution and law.
- Each of these is accountable not only to the people but also to other independent officials.
FOURTH FEATURE: A democratic government rules within limits set by constitutional law and citizens’ rights.
Democracy is a form of government in which:
- Rulers elected by the people take all the major decisions.
- Elections offer a choice and fair opportunity to the people to change the current rulers.
- The exercise of this choice leads to a government limited by basic rules of the constitution and citizens’ rights.