Democracies and Sustainable Development

Democracy is a political system based on the free choice of the governed, with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It provides a structure for governance at the national level that ensures people have a say in decisions and can hold decision-makers accountable. This helps to achieve sustainable development and is an integral part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The ancient Greeks are credited with creating the first democracy. Theirs was a direct democracy – in other words, instead of relying on elected representatives to govern on their behalf, citizens themselves debated issues and created policies. The modern world has many different kinds of democracy, including those with representative and participative systems. It is important to distinguish between these different forms of democracy, and to understand how they function.

Throughout history, governments have attempted to control the public’s thoughts and beliefs in order to maintain their power. But this approach suffocates the development of new ideas, and prevents society from evolving in healthy ways. The best way to protect a democratic system is to allow individuals to express their views freely, and even to criticize those in power without fear of being punished or imprisoned.

One of the most basic requirements for a democracy is the freedom of association and assembly (UDHR, Article 20). This right allows people to form groups in which they can discuss their ideas with others, to gather together to protest against government decisions they disagree with, or to meet with friends to discuss a common interest. This is often inconvenient for governments, but it is vital if different views are to be made known and taken into account.

Another essential feature of democracy is the free and equal right to vote (UDHR, Article 21). This guarantees that all eligible persons have the right to take part in a democratic process by voting for candidates representing their views, interests and aspirations. It also guarantees that all votes will be counted, so that every person has the same opportunity to participate in the democratic system.

Finally, a democracy must provide effective and accessible remedies for complaints or grievances raised by individuals. For example, it should have independent bodies which investigate allegations of electoral fraud or malpractice and which are not subject to veto by political parties or other interested parties. This will help to maintain transparency in the political system and strengthen the confidence of citizens in it.

It is not helpful to try to measure the quality of a democracy using a single yardstick or compare different countries against each other, as this risks overlooking important differences. Instead, international organizations such as Freedom House, the Economist Intelligence Unit, and Varieties of Democracy use a variety of factors to determine the extent to which a country is democratic. Ultimately, a democracy is a system that should be judged by its own citizens, who should decide how their country is governed and in what ways they want to be involved with it.