A representative government is one in which representatives of the people share, to a significant degree, in the making of political decisions. Government is not representative if power is concentrated in the hands of an individual who claims to represent the people. The necessary and sufficient condition of representative government is, therefore, the existence of a fair number of representatives of the people, meeting together in some kind of Council or Assembly.
Different ways of Representation
Firstly, the term “representative” is used to denote an agent or delegate, a person whose function is to protect and advance the interest of the individual or group on whose behalf he is acting. Ambassadors and lawyers are representatives in this sense. Therefore despite how they are chosen, and how much freedom of action they have, their function is to look after the interests of the people they represent. It is in this sense that the idea of representation is loosely bound up with the idea of consent since an agent acts on behalf of this people.
Secondly, the term is commonly used to describe persons and assemblies that have been freely elected. Freedom of choice is usually assured when people refer to representatives in this sense of the term. A member of parliament would be properly regarded as parliamentary representatives of their constituencies whether or not they take any notice of the views of the people they represent. So long as they have been elected and are dependent on their constituencies for re-election, they are looked upon as representatives.
The third usage of the “representative” signifies that a person is or a group of people are typical of a class. A small body is said to be representative of a large one if it mirrors the main characteristics of the larger one. Statisticians used the word in this sense when they speak of a “representative sample”. Political scientists also use the term when they discuss the extent to which the composition of the executive committee of a Trade Union is representative of the membership.
These three usages of the term representation indicate different ways in which members of an assembly or committee can represent a larger group of people by virtue of their activities or by virtue of the manner of their selection and by virtue of their personal characteristics. A man is therefore a representative of the people if one of his duties is the protection of the citizens’ interest, and if he has been elected by the citizens.
In western democracies, representation by election has been regarded as the most important form of representation and therefore the only proper basis of a political system. Therefore representative government is one in which the body of people elect their representatives to a legislature of their own. The legislature must occupy a powerful position in the political system and election into it must be free. This definition indicates that there is need to equate representation with election. This is because of the manner of choosing members of the legislative assembly which is often based on their attitudes as it affects the interest of the people who elected them.
It is largely through the representative system that public demands are expressed, modified and presented to the government. A representative government therefore comprises of the policies of a government and public opinion particularly if these policies are coherent and mutually consistent. This, therefore, makes the government to be responsive.
Main features of Representative Government
The character of a country’s representative system of government is shaped by a number of factors:
a. There must be socially homogenous and connected people.
b. The members of a country must share common values.
c. They must agree on fundamental issues.
d. There must be elections and the citizens must vote on the basis of public interest rather than private interest.
e. There must be a consensus of opinion on important issues.
Universal Adult Suffrage:
This is a type of franchise that gives every eligible voter the right to vote in an election.
The presentation of alternative candidates, programmes and parties is necessary if every shade of opinion is to be given the chance to participate in the Political process.
A Full Fledge Party System:
This is of absolute necessity if genuine alternative candidates, policies and programmes are to be presented to the electorates who will select their representatives.
A General Acceptance of the Rules of the Game:
The rule and regulations guiding the conduct of an election to choose representatives must be acceptable to the electorate.
A Competent and Neutral Administration:
The authority responsible for the conduct of elections must be competent and neutral in order to elect competent and acceptable representatives.
An Independent Judiciary:
It is often observed that disputes arise from the conduct of elections to choose representatives. It is, therefore, important to establish an independent judiciary capable of interpreting the electoral laws impartially and fairly, so that in the event of disputes, resolutions can be reached to the contentment of all parties concerned.