What Is Democracy?

Democracy comes from the Greek word demokratia, meaning “rule by the people.” It’s a system of government in which citizens have a say in important decisions through direct or indirect means. In a direct democracy, everyone has a vote on any decision that affects them. In a representative democracy, people choose representatives who will act on their behalf in making decisions. People in a democracy expect their government to look out for them, protect their rights and freedoms, and uphold the law.

There are different kinds of democracies around the world, ranging from presidential and parliamentary to federal and unitary. While no one democracy is identical, they all share some common features, including free and fair elections, respect for fundamental human rights, and a willingness to change.

While there are many advantages to democracy, there are some problems that are associated with it as well. Political polarization, racial tension, identity politics, money politics and the social divide are all problematic for democracy. However, with proper oversight and reforms, these issues can be overcome.

Another problem is that democracy can lead to corruption. This is because democratic structures are often based on electoral competition, and politicians may use their office for personal gain, such as through lobbying or buying influence. This can be countered by providing more opportunities for people to impact decision-making in a democratic government.

Regardless of whether it is a direct or representative democracy, citizens must have access to the broadest possible range of information in order to participate effectively. A lack of information is a key obstacle to democracy, as ignorance leads to apathy. Democracy requires a literate, knowledgeable citizenry with full freedom of speech and expression in order to thrive.

In addition, democratic systems must guard against all-powerful central governments and decentralize their power. They must also allow local governments to be accessible and responsive to the people. This is a principle that has been endorsed by the United Nations in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In a democratic system, citizens must make their views known to their elected representatives and the media. They should speak out against policies that they feel are undemocratic or against their interests, and they should join with other citizens to form groups and protest when necessary. The recent “Arab Spring” and the resurgence of students’ protests around the world have shown that popular pressure can force even the most powerful governments to reconsider their choices. The UDHR also recognizes the right to freedom of assembly and association. This includes the right to form associations and trade unions and to demonstrate peacefully.