The word democracy comes from the Greek words demos (“people”) and kratos (“rule”). In its most basic sense, it is government of, by and for the people. It is an idea that has been cherished by many people throughout history and promoted by the United Nations. It is a concept that encompasses the principles of human rights, including freedom of expression and assembly, and good governance.
The defining feature of a democracy is popular sovereignty – in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. This means that people are guaranteed to be involved in running their own countries through regular, free and fair elections. Democracy also entails the principle of the majority rule, in which decisions are made by the largest group of voters. However, it must be emphasized that this does not mean that the majority’s will is absolute or infallible, and that there is always room for improvement.
A democracy also entails equality and the rule of law. It means that women and men have equal rights and that all people are protected from discrimination, including sex, religion and ethnicity. It requires that decision-makers are accountable to the citizens, and that laws are not used to discriminate against anyone. A democratic system must be fair and free of corruption.
It must also guarantee the right to freedom of speech and the press, allowing citizens to express their opinions freely without fear of reprisal or violence. Moreover, democracy must allow for the peaceful assembly of citizens, allowing them to hold protests against issues they believe are important. This is the very essence of the concept, and this can be seen in the so-called Arab Spring, when masses of people took to the streets to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with their governments.
Lastly, it is necessary that decisions are taken on the basis of the broadest possible consensus, ensuring the involvement of a wide range of interests and viewpoints. This is why, in a democracy, the government should be composed of many political parties and coalitions. This is the essence of democracy and this is why it is different from a dictatorship, where one person or a small group of individuals has total control over all aspects of politics.
While democracies are widely considered to be the preferred form of government, they are not the only model for a country’s political system. There are parliamentary, presidential and federal democracies, proportional and majoritarian voting systems, and even monarchies that have democratic features. It would be impossible to measure the many diverse democracies in the world with a single yardstick and to compare them to each other.
It is also not easy to measure the effects of democracy on development. This is due to the fact that democracy involves a complex set of institutions, and it can be difficult to study their impact on different phenomena, such as inequality or poverty, in detail. Furthermore, it is difficult to measure democracy within a country because of the differences in electoral procedures and institutions that can vary widely between different countries. As a result, the academic literature on democracy has largely focused on cross-country comparisons.