The word Democracy is derived from the Greek words ‘demos’ meaning people and ‘kratos’ meaning rule. The word democracy has many meanings. Generally the term signifies that the ultimate authority in political affairs rightly belong to the people. Appadorai (1975), defined democracy as a system of government under which the people exercise the governing power directly or through representatives, periodically elected by themselves. Abraham Lincoln, one of the former presidents of America, gave a popular definition of democracy. He defined Democracy as “government of the people, by the people and for the people”.
Democracy as a form of government first started in ancient Greece. During this time the citizens assemble in a common place to make laws. The early Greeks emphasised the participation of citizens in public affairs.
Representative government was unnecessary because of the small size of the Greek city-States. Ancient Democracy did not presuppose equality of all individuals. Majority of the people notably slaves and women had no political right. Athens, for instance, limited the franchise to native-born citizens. This was the period of direct democracy.
It is increasingly unnecessary to run modern government along the lines of the ancient Greeks. In the first place, the population and areas of modern States are too large for all citizens to assemble together. Secondly, the business of government has become specialised that full time professional administrators are now needed. This has led to the development of indirect democracy otherwise known as representative government. This system gives the citizens’ personal freedom and opportunities to choose their leaders and select governmental programme from available alternatives.
Features of Democracy
The major features of democracy are as follows:
1. There are fundamental human rights – civil liberties, freedom of speech, religion, association, movement, etc.
2. There is more than one political party or individual competing for power.
3. There is social justice, which signifies a condition of fairness, equal opportunity and respect for human dignity.
4. Elections come up at periodic intervals so that there should be no President for life.
5. Groups and associations are able to operate, to choose their own candidates or support political parties without prosecution.
6. There is separation of powers and the representative Assemblies have some level of control over the executive branch. The Judiciary is free and independent of the other organs of government.
7. Decisions are arrived at by simple majority.
8. There is the principles of rule of law.
Conditions for Democratic Rule
1. Education: Education creates functional awareness. It enables the citizens to participate in the political process.
2. Participation of the citizens in the processes of government.
3. Leadership: This is an essential ingredient often supplied by Political parties which are essential to the successful working of representative government. Leadership is essential in that it enables the people to work out the best interest of the community.
4. Democracy also requires the widespread habit of tolerance and compromise among the members of a community. It involves a sense of give and take.
5. There must also be security against unemployment. This involves minimum wage coupled with fair conditions of service, etc.
6. There must also be the possibility of an alternative government. The citizens’ should be free to elect a new set of leaders when the incumbents are found to be incapable to rendering satisfactory service to the people.
Advantages of Democracy
1. Democracy recognises the rights of individuals and responsibility of government.
2. It is the most human form of government. It is the only government based on the universal principles of justice.
3. It promotes the welfare of the people better than any other type of government.
4. Democracy encourages and provides opportunity for political participation. The participation in governmental affairs lifts the individual above the narrow circle of egoism and broadens his interests.
5 In democracy, decisions are arrived at through the process of discussion, argument and persuasion. Democracy does not believe in suppression of thought or idea.
6. Like other forms of government, it performs the functions of internal and external security. This involves the securing of justice and fair play in public life.
7 Democracy guarantees general prosperity by promoting the interest of all people in the society.
Disadvantages of Democracy
Democracy as a form of government suffers from the following defects.
1. Democracy is said to be a form of government based on the rule of ignorance. It pays attention to quantity and not quality.
2. Modern democracy is said to be capitalistic. Only a few rich people actually find their interest represented in government. The State therefore represents no more than the rule of the propertied oligarchy.
3. The fundamental principles of democracy, namely, political equality and majority rule come under serious attack. It is often argued that it is impossible for all men to be equal. Thus, the decision of the majority especially in all illiterate society cannot be said to be the best decision.
4. Democracy is a difficult form of government. The assumptions on which it rests are difficult to be fulfilled.