A democracy means rule by the people. The name is used for different forms of government, where the people can take part in the decisions that affect the way their community is run. In modern times, there are different ways this can be done:
- The people meet to decide about new laws, and changes to existing ones. This is usually called direct democracy.
- The people elect their leaders. These leaders take this decision about laws. This is commonly called representative democracy. The process of choosing is called election. Elections are either held periodically, or when an officeholder dies.
- Sometimes people can propose new laws or changes to existing laws. Usually, this is done using a referendum, which needs a certain number of supporters.
- The people who make the decisions are chosen more or less at random. This is common, for example when choosing a jury for a trial. This method is known as sortition or allotment. In a trial, the jury will have to decide the question whether the person is guilty or not. In Europe, trials with a jury are only used for serious crimes, such as murder, hostage taking or arson.
To become a stable democracy, a state usually undergoes a process of democratic consolidation.
After people hold an election, the candidates that won are determined. The way this is done can be simple: The candidate with the most votes gets elected. Very often, the politicians being elected belong to a political party. Instead of choosing a person, people vote for a party. The party with the most votes then picks the candidates.
Usually, the people being elected need to meet certain conditions: They need to have a certain age or a government body needs to determine that they are suitably qualified to perform the job.
Kinds of democracy
There are two kinds of democracy: direct and indirect.
In direct democracies, everyone has the right to make laws together. One modern example of direct democracy is a referendum, which is the name for the kind of way to pass a law where everyone in the community votes on it. Direct democracies are not usually used to run countries, because it is hard to get millions of people to get together all the time to make laws and other decisions. There is not enough time.
In an indirect, or representative democracy, people choose representatives to make laws for them. These people can be mayors, councilmen, members of Parliament, or other government officials. This is a much more common kind of democracy. Large communities like cities and countries use this method, but it may not be needed for a small group. When democracy is mixed with sharia law, it has been called an Islamocracy.
This kind of government was developed long ago by the ancient Greeks in the city of Athens. They had everyone who was a citizen (slaves, women, foreigners, and children could not vote) get together in one area. The Assembly would talk about what kinds of laws they wanted and voted on them. The Council would suggest the laws. All citizens were allowed in the Assembly.
The Council were picked by draws (lottery). The participants in the Council would change every year and the number of people in the Council was at the most 500. For some offices the Athenian citizens would pick a leader by writing the name of their favorite candidate on a piece of stone or wood. The person with the most votes became the leader.
In the Middle Ages, there were many systems in which there were elections, although only a few people could join in at this time. The Parliament of England began from the Magna Carta, a document which showed that the King's power was limited, and protected certain rights of the people. The first elected parliament was De Montfort's Parliament in England in 1265.
However, only a few people could actually join in. Parliament was chosen by only a few percent of the people (in 1780, less than 3% of people joined in). The ruler also had the power to call parliaments. After a long time, the power of Parliament began to grow. After the Glorious Revolution in 1688, the English Bill of Rights made Parliament more powerful. Later, the ruler became a symbol instead of having real power.
- Majority rule
- Direct democracy
- Democratic consolidation
- Political party
- Constitutional economics
- Political economy
- Rule of law
Magna Carta, 1215, England
In Switzerland, without needing to register, every citizen receives ballot papers and information brochures for each vote (and can send it back by post). Switzerland has a direct democracy system and votes are organised about four times a year.
Queen Elizabeth II, a constitutional monarch
A marble statue of Aristotle
Democracy for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.