The Idea of Democracy

The Idea of Democracy

Features | Outcomes | Democracy - Yes or No?

Table of contents

The word democracy comes from the Greek words "demos", meaning people, and "kratos" meaning power; so democracy can be thought of as "power of the people": a way of governing which depends on the will of the people.

Features of Democracy

  1. In a democracy, the final decision making power must rest with those elected by the people (Eg. Pakistan elects national and provincial assemblies, but the real power rests with the military, hence it cannot be called as a people's rule)
  2. A democracy must be based on a free and fair election where those currently in power have a fair chance of losing
  3. In a democracy, every adult citizen must have one vote and each vote must have one value. i.e. Universal Adult Franchise (principle of political equality)
  4. A democratic government rules within limits set by constitutional law and citizens' rights
  5. State should respect basic rights of its citizens
  6. Democratic theory holds that power should be vested in institutions and exercised according to procedures

Outcomes of Democracy

  1. It produces government that is accountable to the citizens, and responsive to the needs and expectations of the citizens
  2. Democratic decisions are both more acceptable to the people and more effective
  3. Transparent and legitimate government
  4. Political equality
  5. Democracy accomodates social diversity
  6. Democracy in India has strengthened the claims of the disadvantaged and discriminated castes for equal status and equal opportunity
  7. A public expression of dissatisfaction with democracy shows the success of democratic project

Essential elements of democracy

  • Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms
  • Freedom of association
  • Freedom of expression and opinion
  • Access to power and its exercise in accordance with the rule of law
  • The holding of periodic free and fair elections by universal suffrage and by secret ballot as the expression of the will of the people. Free and fair elections are based on the three pillars - Transparency, Verifiablity and Secrecy
  • A pluralistic system of political parties and organizations
  • The separation of powers
  • The independence of the judiciary
  • Transparency and accountability in public administration
  • Free, independent and pluralistic media

Arguments in favour of democracy

  • Democracy is better than any other form of government in responding to the needs of the people.
  • It is more accountable form of government
  • It enables peaceful transfer of power through free and fair elections
  • Discussion and consultation improves the quality of decision making.
  • Democracy provides a method to deal with differences and conflicts.
  • Democracy is the best form of governance because it enhances the dignity of citizens.
  • Democracy allows us to correct its own mistakes
  • It promotes equality among citizens

Arguments against democracy

  • Leaders keep changing in a democracy, this leads to instability
  • Democracy is all about political competition and power play. There is no scope for morality
  • So many people have to be consulted in democracy.. This leads to delay in decision making
  • Elected leaders do not know the best interests of the people. It leads to bad decisions
  • Democracy leads to corruption for it is based on electoral competition
  • Ordinary people don't know what is good for them; they should not decide anything

Interesting thoughts on democracy

  • Democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor
  • Democracy consists of choosing your dictators after they've told you what you think it is you want to hear
  • Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to justice makes democracy necessary
  • Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve
  • All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy.
  • Dissent is the safety valve of democracy.
  • In his famous Gettysburg address, Abraham Lincoln described good governance as "of the people, by the people and for the people". Centuries later, we do understand the "of", and are willing to tolerate the "by" but unfortunately we keep forgetting the "for".
  • Lincoln defined democracy as the Rule of the people, by the people and for the people.. But now the definition is getting replaced by : Democracy is off the people, far (from) the people and (where they) buy the people!


  • Clearly, democracy is not a magical solution for all the problems. Democracy as a form of government only ensures that people are empowered to take their own decisions
  • When a society adopts democracy as its form of governance, it presumes the beginning of a social transformation.

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