What is Democracy? Why Democracy? | Class 9 Civics

What is Democracy?

Democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. In other words, a system of government where people are equipped with the authority to choose their governing legislators.

Many of the governments were considered as democratic but many were the non-democratic regimes. The governance of a nation can shift between democratic or non-democratic types as political changes happen. Some noteworthy cases are:

● Chile, before & after the Pinochet’s rule

● Poland: after the fall of the communist rule

● Ghana: Early period of Nkrumah’s government.

Why is it necessary to define the term democracy?

Democracy is a term that needs to be defined and stated well among all. It is commonly identified when the government is chosen by the people or the rulers are elected by the people.This definition allows us to separate democracy from forms of government that are clearly not democratic. But these descriptions are not adequate, as all the governments that hold elections are not democratic. It has to be clear enough that democracy is people’s rule.

There are many examples to understand well that many governments are not democratic but only pretend to be one.

  • Myanmar : The army rulers of Myanmar are not elected by the people. Those who happen to be in control of the army become the rulers of the country. People have no say in this decision.

  • Chile : Dictators like Pinochet are not elected by the people. This also applies to monarchies.

  • Saudi Arabia : The kings of Saudi Arabia rule not because the people have chosen them to do so but because they happen to be born into the royal family.

What are the features of democracy?

The concept of democracy is broad and diverse. Different political systems deal with different methods and the countries will therefore be’ differently democratic’.

There are some different aspects of democracy; here are the key features that portrays a strong image of democracy:

1. Major decisions by elected leaders – In a democracy the final decision making power must rest with those elected by the people.

2. Free and fair electoral competition – A democracy must be based on a free and fair election where those currently in power have a fair chance of losing.

3. One person, one vote, one value – In a democracy, each adult citizen must have one vote and each vote must have one value.

4. Rule of law and respect for rights – A democratic government rules within limits set by constitutional law and citizens’ rights.

The above features can also be summarised as the points below:

● Democratic Governance

● A democratic voting system

● Respect for the rule of law

● Respect towards basic human rights

● Multiparty political system paired with political tolerance

● Citizen participation

1. Major decisions by elected leaders

In a democracy the final decision making power must rest with those elected by the people.

Case of Politics In Pakistan

In Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf led a military coup in October 1999. He overthrew a democratically elected government and declared himself the ‘Chief Executive’ of the country. He later changed his designation to President and in 2002 held a referendum in the country that granted him a five year extension.

Pakistani media, human rights organisations and democracy activists said that the referendum was based on malpractices and fraud.

Issuance of Legal Framework Order

In August 2002 he issued a ‘Legal Framework Order’ that amended the Constitution of Pakistan.

According to this Order:

● The President can dismiss the national and provincial assemblies.

● The work of the civilian cabinet is supervised by a National Security Council which is dominated by military officers.

After passing this law, elections were held to the national and provincial assemblies. So Pakistan has had elections, elected representatives have some powers. But the final power rests with military officers and General Musharraf himself.

Is Pakistan a Democracy?

There are many reasons why Pakistan under General Musharraf should not be called a democracy. People may have elected their representatives to the national and provincial assemblies but those elected representatives are not really the rulers.

Final decision with unelected officials : They cannot take the final decisions. The power to take final decision rests with army officials and with General Musharraf, and none of them are elected by the people.

This happens in many dictatorships and monarchies. They formally have an elected parliament and government but the real power is with those who are not elected.

External Influence : This control could also be by some external powers. For example, the rule of the USSR in communist Poland and that of the US in contemporary Iraq. Here the real power was with some external powers and not with locally elected representatives. This cannot be called people’s rule.

2. Free & Fair Electoral Competition

A democracy must be based on a free and fair election where those currently in power have a fair chance of losing.

National People’s Congress – One Party System in China

China follows the system of conducting elections every 5 years. The National People’s Congress is also called Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui . The NPC had the power to appoint the President of the country. It has nearly 3,000 members elected from all over China, including the members from the army.

Before contesting elections, a candidate needs the approval of the Chinese Communist Party. Only those who are members of the Chinese Communist Party or eight smaller parties allied to it were allowed to contest elections held in 2002-03.

The fact is that the government in China is always formed by the Communist Party.

PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) – Case of Mexico

The Elections is Mexico are conducted after every six years, since its independence. Also, there is a presidential form of government in Mexico. The state had never been under any military or dictator’s rule. But until 2000, The Institutional Revolutionary Party won every election held.

The opposition was still there; many other parties did give their participation but never managed to win the elections. The PRI was known to use many dirty tricks to win elections. All those who were employed in government offices had to attend its party meetings.

Teachers of government schools used to force parents to vote for the PRI. Media largely ignored the activities of opposition political parties except to criticize them.

Sometimes the polling booths were shifted from one place to another at the last minute, which made it difficult for people to cast their votes. The PRI spent a large sum of money in the campaign for its candidates.

Why are China and Mexico not considered democracies?

● In China the elections do not offer the people any serious choice. They have to choose the ruling party and the candidates approved by it.

● In the Mexican example, people seemed to really have a choice but in practice they had no choice. There was no way the ruling party could be defeated, even if people were against it.

Considering these examples, it is clear that these are not fair elections. Holding elections of any kind is not sufficient. The elections must offer a real choice between political alternatives. It should be possible for people to use this choice to remove the existing rulers, if they wish so.

3. One Person One Vote One Value

In a democracy, each adult citizen must have one vote and each vote must have one value.

Democracy is based on a fundamental principle of political equality. It was seen that the struggle for democracy was linked to the demand for universal adult franchise and this principle has now come to be accepted almost all over the world.

Yet there are many instances of denial of equal right to vote.

● In Saudi Arabia women do not have the right to vote.

● Estonia has made its citizenship rules in such a way that people belonging to the Russian minority find it difficult to get the right to vote.

● In Fiji, the electoral system is such that the vote of an indigenous Fiji has more value than that of an Indian-Fijian.

4. Rule of Law and Respect For Rights

A democratic government rules within limits set by constitutional law and citizens’ rights.

Mugabe’s Rule in Zimbabwe – Case of ZANU-PF

Zimbabwe attained independence from white minority rule in 1980. Since then the country has been ruled by ZANU-PF, the party that led the freedom struggle. ZANU-PF was so strong that it won every election held.

Robert Mugabe, the leader of the party had been ruling the country since independence till 2017 when he was forced to resign as a result of military coup.

President Mugabe was a popular figure but also used unfair practices in elections. Over the years his government had changed the constitution several times to increase the powers of the President and made him less accountable. Opposition party workers were harassed and their meetings disrupted.

Public protests and demonstrations against the government were declared illegal. There is still a law that limits the right to criticise the President.

Television and radio are controlled by the government and give only the ruling party’s version. There are independent newspapers but the government harasses those journalists who go against it. The government also ignored some court judgments that went against it and has pressured judges.

The example of Zimbabwe shows that popular approval of the rulers is necessary in a democracy, but it is not sufficient. Popular governments can be undemocratic.

Why should the state respect basic rights of citizens?

Popular leaders can be autocratic. If we wish to assess a democracy, it is important to look at the elections. But it is equally important to look before and after the elections. There should be sufficient room for normal political activity, including political opposition, in the period before elections.

This requires that the state should respect some basic rights of the citizen.

● People must be free to think, to have opinions, to express these in public, to form associations, to protest and take other political actions.

● Everyone should be equal in the eyes of law. These rights must be protected by an independent judiciary whose orders are obeyed by everyone.

● Grant and respect some guarantees to the minorities.

● Every major decision has to go through a series of consultations.

● Every office bearer has certain rights and responsibilities assigned by the constitution and the law.

● Each of these is accountable not only to the people but also to other independent officials

Arguments Against Democracy

This conversation has most of the arguments that we routinely hear against democracy. Let us go over some of these arguments:

1. Instability : Leaders keep changing in a democracy. This leads to instability.

2. Questionable Morality : Democracy is all about political competition and power play. There is no scope for morality.

3. Slow Process : So many people have to be consulted in a democracy that it leads to delays.

4. Disconnected Representatives : Elected leaders often do not know the best interest of the people. It leads to bad decisions.

5. Can lead to corruption : Democracy leads to corruption for it is based on electoral competition.

6. Lack of Interest : Ordinary people don’t know what is good for them given there is limited interest and engagement in the policy making process and therefore they should not decide anything.

Clearly, democracy is not a magical solution for all the problems. It has not ended poverty in our country and in other parts of the world

Democracy as a form of government only ensures that people take their own decisions. This does not guarantee that their decisions will be good. People can make mistakes. Involving the people in these decisions does lead to delays in decision making.

It is also true that democracy leads to frequent changes in leadership. Sometimes this can set back big decisions and affect the government’s efficiency.

These arguments show that democracy of the kind we see may not be the ideal form of government. But that is not a question we face in real life.

Arguments For Democracy

1. A democratic government is a better government because it is a more accountable form of government.

Case of Famine in India and China

China’s famine of 1958-1961 was the worst recorded famine in world history. Nearly three crore people died in this famine. During those days, India’s economic condition was not much better than China. Yet India did not have a famine of the kind China had.

Economists think that this was a result of different government policies in the two countries. The existence of democracy in India made the Indian government respond to food scarcity in a way that the Chinese government did not.

They point out that no large-scale famine has ever taken place in an independent and democratic country. If China too had multiparty elections, an opposition party and a press free to criticize the government, then so many people may not have died in the famine.

Why is democracy considered the best form of government?

A non-democratic government may and can respond to the people’s needs, but it all depends on the wishes of the people who rule. If the rulers don’t want to, they don’t have to act according to the wishes of the people.

A democracy requires that the rulers have to attend to the needs of the people. It is because of this feature that democracy is considered better than any other form of government.

2. Democracy improves the quality of decision-making.

Since democracy is based on consultation and discussion, it often leads to better decisions than any non-democratic government. A democratic decision always involves many people, discussions and meetings. When a number of people put their heads together, they are able to point out possible mistakes in any decision.

3.Democracy provides a method to deal with differences and conflicts.

In any society people are bound to have differences of opinions and interests. In a country like India, the differences among the social level are particularly sharp.

People belong to different regions, speak different languages, practice different religions and have different castes. They look at the world very differently and have different preferences. The preferences of one group can clash with those of other groups.

In order to resolve the conflicts among all the diverse groups there are several steps that can be taken.

Why should brutal power not be used to resolve social conflicts?

The conflict can be solved by brutal power. Whichever group is more powerful will dictate its terms and others will have to accept that. But that would lead to resentment and unhappiness. Different groups may not be able to live together for long in such a way.

Democracy provides the only peaceful solution to this problem. In democracy, no one is a permanent winner. No one is a permanent loser. Different groups can live with one another peacefully. In a diverse country like India, democracy keeps our country together.

4. Democracy enhances the dignity of the citizens.

Democracy is based on the principle of political equality, on recognizing that the poorest and the least educated have the same status as the rich and the educated. People are not subjects of a ruler, they are the rulers themselves.

5. Democracy allows it to correct its own mistakes

The advantage in a democracy is that such mistakes cannot be hidden for long. There is a space for public discussion on these mistakes. And there is a room for correction. Either the rulers have to change their decisions, or the rulers can be changed. This cannot happen in a non-democratic government.

 

Democracy cannot get us everything and is not the solution to all problems. But it is clearly better than any other alternative that we know.

What is ‘Representative Democracy’?

Representative Democracy is the most common form of democracy in recent times. In a democratic country all the people cannot rule. Hence, a majority is allowed to take decisions on behalf of all the people.

 

Even the majority does not rule directly, the majority of people rule through their elected representatives.

 

This become necessary because:

 

● Modern democracies involve such a large number of people that it is physically impossible for them to sit together and take a collective decision.

● Even if they could, the citizen does not have the time, the desire or the skills to take part in all the decisions. This gives us a clear but minimal understanding of democracy.

● This clarity helps us to distinguish democracies from non-democracies. But it does not allow us to distinguish between a democracy and a good democracy. It does not allow us to see the operation of democracy beyond government.

Democracy for Organisation

A democratic decision involves consultation with and consent of all those who are affected by that decision. Those who are not powerful have the same say in taking the decision as those who are powerful.

 

This can apply to a government or a family or any other organisation. Thus democracy is also a principle that can be applied to any sphere of life. It enables us to judge an existing democracy and identify its weaknesses. It helps us to distinguish between a minimal democracy and a good democracy

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