Characteristics of democracy

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The democratic system is considered the fairest form of government. Universal suffrage ensures the representation of all citizens. Pure and representative democracies guarantee freedom of expression and worship. We explain what democracy is, what are the general characteristics of this form of government and the types that exist.

What is democracy?

Democracy is a form of government in which there is popular participation and in which citizens can choose and control, directly or indirectly, the rulers who represent them. It is a globally recognized ideal system of government and constitutes one of the basic principles of the United Nations.

The word democracy comes from Greek language, where ‘demos‘ means people and ‘kratos‘ means government or authority. The concept of democracy was born with the rise of Greek civilization and the growth of city states or ‘polis’. These democratic ideas gave rise to political institutions that try to safeguard the common good and the participation of citizens.

The democratic system is considered the most just and convenient form of government. The system encourages elections through universal suffrage for the election of rulers, and proposes a division of powers to avoid abuse of authority.

The democratic system presents variations in the model, according to the different countries of the world. It is important to clarify that a government ceases to be democratic when it exercises an:

  • Autocracy.
  • Dictatorship.
  • Or dominant oligarchy, despite recognizing some rights of the population.

Characteristics of democracy

The democratic system is based on two key principles that are the reason for its great popularity:

  • Individual autonomy – It refers to the fact that no one should be subject to rules that have been imposed by other people.
  • Equality – It refers to the fact that all individuals should have the same opportunity to influence decisions that affect society.

However, when these principles are put into practice some problems often arise. The political system ceases to be the “rule of the majority” and, at times, it can mean that the interests of a minority group are not represented by their rulers.

The democratic system is characterized by the following general values and principles:

  • Equality and freedom – It corresponds to the fact that all individuals are equal before the law and are free to act in their own way. As long as they do not act contrary to what is established by the law.
  • Representativeness – It corresponds to the right of each citizen to be represented by an authority, because it is impossible for the people to deliberate or govern directly in all daily decisions.
  • Constitutional – It corresponds to the fundamental law. It is a legal-political statute that establishes the division of powers and its scope, guarantees the rights and freedoms of all citizens.
  • Decentralization of decisions – It corresponds to the distribution of power between various agents who agree and deliberate decisions, pluralistically to avoid abuse of authority by a single entity.
  • Human rights – they correspond to a set of principles and norms that regulate human relations in every society. These are fundamental rights the democratic system guarantees for its citizens (such as participation in politics, freedom of expression and worship).
  • Political participation and pluralism – It consists of the diversity of groups of representatives with different or conflicting interests, so that the process of citizen participation is democratic by having political parties that respect the different wills of the entire society.

Types of democracy

There are different types of democratic systems. Among the main ones, the following two types stand out:

  • Direct democracy – It is a type of government in which citizens exercise power without any intermediary. Decisions are deliberate in public hearings.
  • Representative democracy – It is a type of government in which the representatives of the people (who were elected by all citizens above a certain age), are the ones who make the decisions.

There are also some mixed types of democratic systems:

  • Hybrid or semi-direct democracy – is a type of government that combines both the representatives elected by the people to carry out certain functions, and the people who participate directly to decide on other matters.
  • Partial democracy – Also called illiberal democracy, is a type of government in which, despite the existence of the call for elections and some basic democratic principles, the activities of the government are not known to the people.
  • Constitutional democracy – is a type of government that is based on a fundamental law or statute where all the laws and the rights of citizens are written, which every government must respect.
  • Parliamentary system – is a type of government in which citizens elect representatives to a legislative parliament to make the necessary laws and decisions. The parliament directly represents the people. The prime minister is always subordinate to the parliament in such systems.
  • Presidential system – is a form of government where citizens elect the president through elections. The president serves as both the head of state and head of government controlling most of the executive powers.

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