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Core features of democratic rule

Discuss About The Lectoral Accountability Success Democracy.

A democratic rule entails an institutional setting that permits free participation through a free, fair and inclusive electoral process. As explained by Robert Dahl, a democratic deal must follow two fundamental principles- political contestation and participation. In political participation, all the citizens who are eligible to take part in the voting process should be allowed to vote (Lindberg et al., 2014, p. 159). In a democratic rule, individuals should have the freedom to converge and express their feelings on political matters without fear of victimization by the government. Moghadam (2013, p. 393), expounds that democratic governments that guarantee civil rights and electoral freedoms are called liberal democracies. Also, democracies can be divided into two- direct and representative. This essay has discussed the core features of democratic rule and the major threats to democracy in the society with an assessment of the state of democracy in the current era.

In a direct democracy, all the laws and policies are made directly by the vote of the citizens instead of elected representatives. All the people are treated equally and given a direct chance to influence the policy-making process (Haskell, 2018, p. 4). Conversely, in a representative democracy, there is an establishment of a representative who acts as an intermediary between the citizens and the policy outputs of a nation (Woldendorp, Keman & Budge, 2013, p. 48). Through an electoral process, a single person or a group of people are elected by the citizens to make decisions on their behalf. A representative democracy can further be divided into parliamentary and presidential systems while a direct democracy may form a subcomponent of a mixed regime.

In a parliamentary system, more power is placed on the legislative branch of the government. This type of democracy is widely used in Germany and United Kingdom and involves voters selecting their parliamentary representatives (Esaiasson & Holmberg, 2017, p. 12). The winning party with the most significant number of parliamentary representatives then selects the head of state (prime minister, premier or chancellor). Bergman & Damgaard (2013, p. 13), explain that a vital characteristic of this system is the split executive consisting of the head of government and the state. The head of government is responsible for controlling all the policymaking agendas and legislative processes whereas the position of the head of state is ceremonial.  Also, the electoral system is based on proportional representation, whereby they win different seats on the basis of the proportion of the votes won. Therefore, when a parliamentary system succeeds in representation, it loses in stability and efficiency.

Different types of democracies

The presidential system is another component of representative democracy. Unlike in parliamentary democracies where elections are conducted in stages, the presidential system entails the voters selecting members for both the legislative branches and the executives at the same time (Magalhães, 2014, p. 77). Besides, the results of the legislative composition have no influence on the executive branch's composition. Presidential democracies are few and located mainly in the Americas (Central America, North America, and South America). For example in the US, it is easy for a party to have a majority in the Congress and for a different party to win the position of the presidency. Furthermore, there is no fusion of power in this system, and the president cannot be removed from power by the Congress except in cases of criminal conduct.

Finally, there are some countries which practice forms of democracy which do not fit as either parliamentary or presidential. (Diamond, 2015, p. 8), explains that such democracies can be termed as mixed systems. For instance, in some countries, a president is elected following the rules of direct democracies, whereby the executive gain authority to exercise a broad range of powers, but can be removed from office just like in parliamentary system. For example, the president Switzerland is powerful and cannot be ousted. However, the president also has no powers to dissolve the parliament.

All the above systems and types of democracies have several standard features that are worth discussing. First, in a democracy, power and civic responsibility must be exercised by all the adult individuals either directly or through their chosen representatives (Magalhães, 2014, p. 80). In a representative democracy, the representatives are responsible for exercising power and civic responsibility on behalf of the citizens who elected them. Conversely, indirect democracies, citizens must have the power to exercise civic responsibility in their states. Therefore, without these preconditions, a country may not be viewed as democratic.

The second feature is respect for the rule of law. In democracies, each citizen is required to respect the law unfavorably irrespective of their rights and freedoms (Magalhães, 2014, p. 82). All the actions of the citizens and the leaders must be in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and the due process. The constitution is a single document which establishes the powers of the government, sets out the governments’ operational procedures and outlines fundamental human rights and freedoms. Ideally, democratic regimes must respect and uphold the sovereignty of their constitution.

Threats to democracy

The third feature is majority rule. Democracy is based on the principles of individual rights and majority rule. Besides Merkel (2014, p. 12), expounds that democracies guard against all-powerful decentralized and central governments to local and regional level understanding.  All the levels of the state must be made accessible and responsive to the citizens. This makes the citizens develop a feeling that they are included in the governing process. In addition, the citizens' concerns and opinions must be sort through proper public participation channels or representatives before significant decisions are made by the government.

Another feature is respect for the individual rights. Democracies understand that the protection of the fundamental human rights like freedom of religion, assembly, and speech is one of their prime functions. As explained by Merkel (2014, p. 13), democracies should provide for the right to equal protection of its citizens under the law. Also, democracies must allow its citizens to participate freely in the economic political and cultural life of the society. Therefore, countries which do not respect the rights of their citizens may be classified as dictatorial regimes.

Honestly, democracies must hold representative elections. In a representative election, citizens are allowed to vote freely and elect their leaders. Svolik (2013, p. 686), restates that democracies should conduct free, fair and regular elections and allow for peaceful transfer and exchange of power. The citizens in a democracy have the rights and responsibilities to take part in the political system. Therefore, the citizens should not be victimized by the state for taking part in the politics or other economic issues affecting the state.

Finally, democracies are committed to the values of cooperation, tolerance, and compromise. Mahatma Gandhi explained that intolerance is a form of violence and an inhibitor to the growth of a democratic spirit (Ostrow, 2014, p. 40). Therefore, leaders in democracies must tolerate and cooperate with their citizens. Furthermore, the majority leaders should respect the rights of the minorities and ensure that they are not violated. This can also be achieved when the leaders respect and follow all the democratic procedures governing a state.

There are several threats to democracy in the contemporary society that are worth discussing in this essay. Four of these threats include corruption, plutocracy or oligarchy, attack on the voting right and apathy. First, corruption may be defined as a situation whereby people misuse their positions in public offices for personal benefits. Several studies have shown that stable democracies have lower corruption levels than totalitarian regimes (Ostrow, 2014, p. 42). Besides, high levels of corruption undermine democracy by deflecting rare resources from poor people and minorities. Therefore, corruption is a primary threat to democracy.

The second threat is political apathy. Apathy within politics is usually demonstrated by lack of participation during elections (Ostrow, 2014, p. 43). The citizens may also fail to engage in discussing political matters affecting the state. Ideally, political apathy is demonstrated in the form of low voter turnouts during elections (Idike, 2014, p. 3). Political apathy compromises the citizen's rights to participate in free, fair and inclusive elections which is a significant feature of a democratic state.

The third threat is an oligarchy. Oligarchy is an economy controlled by a handful of affluent individuals. Besides, a plutocracy is a form of oligarchy whereby the leaders governing a state are wealthy (Aspinall, 2015, p. 2). Going by the explanations of Fukuoka (2013, p. 52), a combination of oligarchy and democracy brings an infusion of inequality and equality in the nation. This is because it rests the rare resources in the hands of few affluent individuals. In a democracy, there must be equality in access and distribution of public resources between the minorities and the rich, which is in contrast to oligarchy.

The last threat is attack on voting rights. Voting rights give the citizens the power to cast their votes during elections and elect the leaders of their choice. In a democracy, there must be equal voting rights for all citizens (Foa & Mounk, 2016, p. 5). When voting rights are denied to some citizens on the basis of color, origin, or race, then this may be a threat to democracy.  Therefore, countries should ensure their citizens have access to their rights to vote and make sure that all the cast votes are counted in a fair manner.

Ralph Ketchman tried to provide a critical evaluation of liberal democracy from both theoretical and historical viewpoints. He used four forms of modernity as a basis for examining democracy. One of these forms is the postmodernity, whereby all institutions, laws, rationales, and patterns of thought include dominant powers and several forms of oppression. This is the point many states have clicked. Democracy today is, therefore, apparently suffering from adverse structural problems.

Since the establishment of the modern democratic regime in the 19th century, it has been practiced through national parliaments and governments, whereby individuals elect representatives to represent their interests for a limited duration. This system is currently facing challenges from both above and below. From above, globalization has extensively altered the national politics, with politicians surrendering power over financial flows and trade (Sunstein, 2018, p. 85). Such leaders find themselves unable to fulfill their promises to voters. Furthermore, global bodies like WTO and IMF have extended their influence on different states as a single nation cannot deal with international issues like climate change and tax evasion.

From below, there are some compelling challenges facing democracy today. For instance, the would-be breakaways states like the Scots and the Catalans from Indian states (Sunstein, 2018, p. 87). Some leaders like the city mayors in the US are making efforts to reclaim power from the ruling governments. Furthermore, the internet and social media have made it easier for NGOs and other lobby groups to disrupt the politics of different states. These organizations can hold reality TV-Votes or support petitions over the internet. This makes the institutions of parliamentary democracy to look anachronistic as they conduct elections only every few years.

Interestingly, the most significant challenge facing democracy today emanates from within the individual countries and the citizens. Plato presented a great worry that democracy would make individuals to live their lives indulging in the pleasure of the moment (Merkel, 2014, p. 15). This postulate has been actualized. The democratic governments have formed a habit of borrowing hugely in an attempt to satisfy their promises to voters in the short-term, while not considering the long-term effects of their actions, For instance, France and Italy have been unable to achieve balanced budgets for close to 30 years. This financial crisis accurately exposes the unsustainable status of the debt-financed democracies.

In a nutshell, there are two basic types of democracies- direct and representative. Representative democracy can be classified into parliamentary, presidential and mixed democracies. The core features of a democratic rule include respect to the rule of law, representative elections, respect to individual rights, respect to values of compromise, tolerance and cooperation and majority rule. The threats to democracy in the contemporary society entail plutocracy, attack on the voting rights, corruption, and political apathy. Democracy in the current era is suffering from severe structural problems.


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Bergman, T. & Damgaard, E., 2013. Delegation and Accountability in European Integration: the Nordic Parliamentary Democracies and the European Union. Routledge. Pp. 1-175

Diamond, L., 2015. Hybrid Regimes. In In Search of Democracy (pp. 163-175). Routledge. Pp. 1-200

Esaiasson, P. & Holmberg, S., 2017. Representation from Above: Members of Parliament and Representative Democracy in Sweden. Taylor & Francis. Pp. 1-353

Foa, R.S. & Mounk, Y., 2016. The Democratic Disconnect. Journal of Democracy, 27(3). Pp. 5-17.

Fukuoka, Y., 2013. Oligarchy and Democracy in Post-Suharto Indonesia. Political Studies Review, 11(1), pp.52-64.

Haskell, J., 2018. Direct democracy or Representative Government? Dispelling the Populist Myth. Routledge. Pp. 1-420.

Idike, A.N., 2014. Political Parties, Political Apathy and Democracy in Nigeria: Contending Issues and the Way Forward. Kuwait Chapter of Arabian Journal of Business and Management Review, 3(4). Pp. 1-28.

Lindberg, S.I., Coppedge, M., Gerring, J. & Teorell, J., 2014. V-Dem: A New Way to Measure Democracy. Journal of Democracy, 25(3), pp.159-169.

Magalhães, P.C., 2014. Government Effectiveness and Support for Democracy. European Journal of Political Research, 53(1), pp.77-97.

Merkel, W., 2014. Is there a Crisis of Democracy? Democratic Theory, 1(2), pp.11-25.

Moghadam, V.M., 2013. What is Democracy? Promises and Perils of the Arab Spring. Current Sociology, 61(4), pp.393-408.

Ostrow, R., 2014. A Deterioration of Democracy? Corruption, Transparency, and Apathy in the Western World. SAIS Review of International Affairs, 34(1), pp.41-44.

Sunstein, C.R., 2018. Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. Princeton University Press. Pp. 1-215

Svolik, M.W., 2013. Learning to Love Democracy: Electoral Accountability and the Success of Democracy. American Journal of Political Science, 57(3), pp.685-702.

Woldendorp, J.J., Keman, H. & Budge, I., 2013. Party Government in 48 Democracies (1945–1998): Composition—duration—personnel. Springer Science & Business Media. Pp. 1-350

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