Democracy is best defined as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” (Abraham Lincoln) Democracy implies both popular participation and government in the public interest, and can take a wide variety of forms. (Heywood; 2007) In my opinion, democracy may not be a perfect system and the best form of government, but it is a better form of government when compared to other kinds, and seems to be most effective. It may have its advantages and disadvantages, but democracy is better than any of our other choices, but not as good as citizens would like it to be. When considering good forms of government, a person shouldn’t analyse what system it follows or what makes a “good” or “bad” government, but think whether the government constitutes the proper preservation of rights.
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Heywood (2007) states that: “The debates about the nature of democracy have tended to focus on three central issues. First, who are the people, or how far should political power be distributed? Second, should the people in effect rule themselves, or should government be left in the hands of politicians and parties that claim to represent them? Third, what matters is it appropriate to decide collectively through the use of democratic processes?”
The classical example of democracy originates from ancient Athens, where the whole populace would meet in the marketplace to vote on decisions. Democracy seems to have developed many different meanings and methods during time. Bernard Crick once said, “Democracy is perhaps the most promiscuous word in the world of public affairs.”
Today, according to Pinckney (1994) there are many varied conceptions of democracy, the ideologies underlying them, and their implications for the state, society and the citizen. These are: radical democracy, guided democracy, liberal democracy, socialist democracy and consociational democracy. The most relevant form of democracy today is liberal democracy. Pinkney (1994) has shown: Liberal democracy’s objectives are representation and protection of diverse interests. The perception of society is aggregation of diverse individuals and groups, autonomous from the state. The state plays a role of the referee. The political process checks and balances to prevent tyranny of the majority, or its representatives, or of powerful minorities. Citizen participation is permitted and encouraged by means of electoral contestation. All citizens have the right of equality before the law. Actual and potential problems are elite domination on account of unequal distribution of resources. In liberal democracy it is important to note that society should be recognised as an aggregation of diverse citizens acting as both individuals and members of groups. (Young; 2002)
Today, there are still many new democracies. Heywood (2007) states that the process of democratic transition has been both complex and difficult, highlighting the fact that democracy should not simply be viewed as the ‘default position’ for human societies. New democracies not only lack developed democratic political cultures but they also have to handle the strains produced by the external forces of globalization.
South Africa has adopted a form of representative democracy. Heywood (2007) describes this form as a limited and indirect form of democracy. It is limited in the way that popular participation in government is infrequent and brief, being restricted to the act of voting every few years. It is indirect in that the public do not exercise power themselves: they elect
A representative to do so on their behalf. This form of democracy has many strengths. Heywood (2007) describes them as: offering a practicable form of democracy (as direct popular participation is achievable in only small communities), it relieves ordinary citizens of the burden of decision-making, thus making a division of labour in politics, allowing government to be placed in the hands of those with better education, expert knowledge and greater experience, and it also maintains stability by distracting ordinary citizens from politics, thereby encouraging them to accept compromise.
Democracy has allowed for change in government without violence. Power is transferred between parties with elections. The citizens decide who rule, as any elected government only has a certain term and then has to face elections again and compete against other parties again to regain power. This election system prevent over powering of the ruling party, as the ruling party has to work to keep its citizens happy or they would not be into the next electoral term. Therefore the citizens gain a sense of control over control over participating in the voting process, and by choosing their government.
Democracy is a double edged sword though. Yes, democracy gives the power to the people, but people are easily influenced by those around them and especially the media. Indirectly the media do have a lot of influence on democracy, as they make citizens aware of the political scenario in the country in the condition that the media reports it to be, which may not always be the truth. The masses are therefore not entirely aware of the political issues in the country, and therefore make the wrong, misguided decision while voting during elections. The authorities also have to concentrate on working for the people, while trying to campaign to win votes during the elections, therefore possibly overlooking certain issues and losing focus on the current political problems. People also tend to follow a crowd, and the citizens may vote for a party under influence of the majority, and not voice his/her true opinion.
Democracy is most often portrayed to lead to peace, freedom and prosperity. It is a political system through which the majority of the population rules, and differs from other forms of political systems by the size of the ruling class .( Young, 2002) Democracy is basically rule by the majority, there are no limits to what the majority can be allowed to decided. Citizens do not realise the circumstances of their decisions or how their vote can change their reality, and can prevent them from becoming the minority. Those that suffer the most in a democracy are the minorities. The smaller the group number, the smaller say they have in policy decisions. Haywood (2007) states that when majority rule has come into account, democracy results reflects that ,the views of the will of the majority or numerically strongest overrides the will of the minority, implying that the latter should accept views of the former.
However, majority and minority change with every issue, so every citizen would probably find themselves in the minority at some point. Government has no fear of rebellion as majority rule. It is for reasons like this that voting is such a useful tool in choosing a proper representative government for the people. Unlimited democracy would not be a wise decision for a country, as citizens themselves have no proper skills in governing a country, as much as they think they know. A constitutional representative republic in which the people elect candidates to represent them is the best form of government discovered so far.
All of these points are theories however. There is a difference between democracies in theory vs. democracy put into practice. In theory, every democratic adult citizen would vote and make the decision that is right for them as an individual. This doesn’t always happen thought, either the person will not vote, or would have not even registered to vote, or possibly voted for a candidate not because of that person’s ideals and goals but because they were supposedly promised free housing. Society seems to have forgotten that voting is not a task, but a privilege that has been fought for. If you consider this thought, however, democracy in comparison to other forms of government works the best for the greatest number of people, which at some stage would hopefully be happy with a decision at some point.
The most important requirement for a government should be that be that it protects the human rights of citizens. When these are protected by the state, citizens should respect government and obey the law. (Heywood, 2007)
In conclusion, I do believe that democracy is a good form of government. It is the option that matters as the people have the control (indirectly) over their own rights and democracy teaches citizens how to do this. It may not be the best form of government ever created, but it one of the better options. Every form of government is bound to have shortfalls. Different people have different views about the various political systems. Democracy aims to strike a balance between governing the people and allowing the people to make the decisions themselves, and democracy is the only form of government where such a balance can be found.