PRINCIPLE OF DEMOCRACY, Majority Rule, and Minority Rights
The word “democracy” is derived from the Greek word “demos,” which means “people.” The people have sovereign power over legislators and governments in democracies. Although there are differences across the numerous democracies around the world, some concepts and behaviors set democratic government apart from other types of administration.
Democracy is a form of governance in which all citizens, directly or through freely chosen representatives, exercise authority and civic responsibility. Democracy is the institutionalization of human freedom; it is a collection of principles and activities that defend human liberty.
The ideas of majority rule, as well as individual and minority rights, underpin democracy. While honoring the majority’s will, all democracies zealously preserve the fundamental rights of individuals and minority groups. Democracies protect citizens from all-powerful central governments by decentralizing government to regional and local levels, recognizing that local government must be as open and responsive to citizens as feasible.
Democracies recognize that one of their primary responsibilities is to safeguard fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and religion, the right to equal protection under the law, and the ability to organize and participate fully in society’s political, economic, and cultural life.
Regular, free, and fair elections are held in democracies, and they are open to all citizens. In a democracy, elections must be genuine competitions for the support of the people, not masks for tyrants or a single political party.
Democracy holds governments accountable to the rule of law, ensuring that all individuals are treated equally under the law and that their rights are protected by the legal system.
Democracies are diverse, reflecting the political, social, and cultural life of each country. Fundamental principles underpin democracies.
Majority Rule, Minority Rights
On the surface, majority rule and the protection of individual and minority rights appear to be incompatible. These values, on the other hand, are twin pillars that support the very base of what we mean by the democratic government.
Majority rule is a tool for organizing government and deciding public issues, not a path to despotism. No majority, even in a democracy, should take away the basic rights and liberties of a minority group or individual, just as no self-appointed organization has the right to persecute others.
Minorities, whether as a result of ethnicity, religious belief, geographic location, income level, or simply as losers in elections or political discussion, are granted basic human rights that no government, and no majority, can deny them.
Democracies recognize that one of their most important responsibilities is to defend minorities’ rights to maintain cultural identity, social traditions, individual consciences, and religious activities.
Acceptance of ethnic and cultural groups that appear unusual, if not alien to the majority, might be one of the most difficult tasks any democratic government faces. Democracies, on the other hand, acknowledge that variety can be of huge value. They view differences in identity, culture, and values as a challenge that can strengthen and enhance them rather than as a danger.
There is no single answer to how minority-group differences in beliefs and values are resolved — only the certainty that only via a democratic process of tolerance, debate, and readiness to compromise can free societies to reach agreements that incorporate all people.
War and peace are the most important issues that any country can confront, and many countries look to their military for leadership in times of crisis.
In democracies, no.
Peace and conflict, as well as other dangers to national security, are the most pressing concerns confronting democracies and must be determined by the people, through their elected representatives. A democratic military serves rather than leads its country. Military leaders advise and carry out the choices of elected officials. Only those who have been elected by the people have the power and obligation to decide a country’s fate.
As a result, the concept of civilian control and power over the military is essential to democracy.
Civilians must direct their actions.
A democratic people must work together to form the government of their choosing to safeguard and protect individual rights and freedoms. Political parties are the most common means of achieving this goal.
Political parties are non-profit organizations that serve as a conduit between citizens and government. Parties recruit candidates and advocate for their election to public office, as well as motivate citizens to participate in the election of government leaders.
The majority party (or the party that was elected to hold government positions) aims to pass a variety of policies and initiatives into law. Opposition parties are entitled to criticize the majority party’s policy suggestions while also making their own.
Citizens can hold elected party representatives responsible for their activities through political parties.
|A democratic government, unlike a dictatorship, exists to serve the people, but citizens under democracies must agree to follow the norms and obligations that govern them. Citizens of democracies have various rights, including the right to dissent and criticize the government. In a democracy, citizenship involves involvement, decency, and even patience. Democratic citizens understand that they have both rights and obligations. They understand that democracy demands a commitment of time and effort; a people’s government necessitates ongoing vigilance and support from the people. Citizens in some democratic nations are expected to serve on juries or to perform forced military or civilian national service for a set length of time. Other responsibilities apply to everyone.|
|A Free Press|
|In a democracy, the press should operate free from governmental control. Democratic governments do not have ministries of information to regulate the content of newspapers or the activities of journalists; requirements that journalists be vetted by the state; or force journalists to join government-controlled unions. A free press informs the public, holds leaders accountable, and provides a forum for debate on local and national issues. Democracies foster the existence of a free press. An independent judiciary, civil society with a rule of law, and free speech all support a free press. A free press must have legal protections. In democracies, the government is accountable for its actions. Citizens, therefore, expect to be informed about decisions their governments make on their behalf. The press facilitates this “right to know,” by serving as a watchdog over the government, helping citizens to hold the government accountable, and questioning its policies. Democratic governments grant journalists access to public meetings and public documents. They do not place prior restraints on what journalists may say or print. The press, itself, must act responsibly. Through professional associations, independent press councils, and “ombudsmen,” in-house critics who hear public complaints, the press responds to complaints of its own excesses and remains internally accountable. Democracy requires the public to make choices and decisions. In order for the public to trust the press, journalists must provide factual reporting based on credible sources and information. Plagiarism and false reporting are counterproductive to a free press. Press outlets should establish their own editorial boards, independent of government control, in order to separate information gathering and dissemination from editorial processes. Journalists should not be swayed by public opinion, only by the pursuit of truth, as close as they can get to it. A democracy allows the press to go about its business of collecting and reporting the news without fear or favor from the government. Democracies foster a never-ending struggle between two rights: The government’s obligation to protect national security; and the people’s right to know, based on journalists’ ability to access information. Governments sometimes need to limit access to information considered too sensitive for general distribution. But journalists in democracies are fully justified in pursuing such information.|
|When diverse groups of free people — with different languages, religious faiths, or cultural norms — choose to live under an agreed constitutional framework, they expect a degree of local autonomy and equal economic and social opportunities. A federal system of government — power shared at the local, regional, and national levels — empowers elected officials who design and administer policies tailored to local and regional needs. They work in partnership with a national government and with each other to solve the many problems the nation faces. Federalism is a system of shared power and decision-making between two or more freely elected governments with authority over the same people and geographical area. It grants and protects decision-making ability where results are almost immediately felt — in local communities, as well as at higher levels of government. Federalism fosters government accountability to the people and encourages citizen participation and civic responsibility by allowing local governments to design and administer local laws. A federal system is strengthened by a written constitution granting authority and outlining the scope of shared responsibilities enjoyed by each level of government. While it is generally agreed that local governments should satisfy local needs, some issues are best left to the national government. Defense, international treaties, federal budgets, and postal services are often cited as examples. Local ordinances reflect the preferences by which local communities choose to live — police and fire patrols, school administration, and local health and building regulations are often designed and administered locally. Intergovernmental relations mean that various governments in a federal state (national, regional, and local) work together when issues of statutory authority imply the need to address issues cooperatively. The national government often has the authority to mediate disputes between regions. In a geographically large and economically diverse nation, disparities in income and social welfare among regions can be addressed by the national government through policies that redistribute tax revenues. A federal system is responsive and inclusive. Citizens are free to run for government positions at all levels — local and regional governments offer the most positions and, perhaps, the most opportunity to make a difference in their communities. Federalism provides multiple opportunities for political parties to serve their constituents. Even if a particular party does not hold a majority in the national legislature or the executive, it is permitted to participate at the regional and local levels|
|The Rule of Law For a long of human history, rulers and law were interchangeable; the law was simply the ruler’s will. The concept of rule by law, which includes the idea that even a ruler is subject to the law and should rule through legal methods, was a first step away from such tyranny. Democracies took it a step further by instituting the rule of law. While no society or government system is without flaws, the rule of law safeguards fundamental political, social, and economic rights and serves as a reminder that tyranny and lawlessness are not the only options. The rule of law states that no one, whether a president or a private citizen, is above the law. Democratic governments wield power under the rule of law and are subject to the limits of the law. Laws should reflect the will of the people. For much of human history, rulers and law were synonymous — the law was simply the will of the ruler. A first step away from such tyranny was the notion of rule by law, including the notion that even a ruler is under the law and should rule by virtue of legal means. Democracies went further by establishing the rule of law. Although no society or government system is problem-free, rule of law protects fundamental political, social, and economic rights and reminds us that tyranny and lawlessness are not the only alternatives. The rule of law states that no one, whether a president or a private citizen, is above the law. Democratic governments wield power under the rule of law and are subject to the limits of the law. Citizens in democracies are willing to accept the laws of their society because they are conforming to their own rules and regulations; laws should express the desire of the people, not the whims of kings, dictators, military authorities, religious leaders, or self-appointed political parties. The only way to attain justice is for the laws to be made by the people who must follow them. Under the rule of law, strong, independent courts should have the ability, authority, resources, and reputation to hold government officials, including top leaders, responsible for the country’s laws and regulations: The necessity of equal protection under the law means that the law may not apply only to one person or group. Citizens must be protected from arbitrary detention and unlawful searches of their houses, as well as the confiscation of their personal belongings. Criminal defendants have the right to a speedy and public trial, as well as the opportunity to confront and question their accusers. If convicted, they will not be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment. ° Citizens cannot be forced to testify in their own defense. This principle protects citizens from coercion, abuse, or torture, and limits the motivation for cops to adopt such tactics.|
|Inalienable rights are granted to all human beings at birth. These human rights enable people to live dignified lives; as a result, no government can bestow them; yet, all governments should safeguard them. People can seek these essential rights because of freedom, which is founded on a foundation of fairness, tolerance, dignity, and respect, regardless of ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, or social status. Human rights are denied by dictatorships, but they are constantly pursued by free societies. Human rights are interconnected and indivisible; they include a wide range of topics, including social, political, and economic concerns. The following are a few of the most widely accepted: Everyone should be able to form their own opinions and express them in private or in peaceful gatherings. People can discuss their opinions on any topic in a free society’s “marketplace of ideas.” Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in governance. Governments should enact laws to preserve human rights, and justice systems should equitably enforce those laws across the population. Whether one is an opponent of the dominant political party, an ethnic minority, or even a common criminal, freedom from arbitrary arrest, incarceration, and torture is a basic human right. While enforcing the nation’s laws, a competent police force respects all citizens. Religious and ethnic minorities should be able to utilize their own language and culture in ethnically diverse countries.|
|Democratic governments are led by citizens who consent to their rule. These leaders are powerful not because they command armies or have vast financial resources, but because they adhere to the restrictions set by the public in a free and fair election. Citizens of a democracy impose powers on their leaders that are established by law through democratic elections. The legislature makes the laws, the executive authority enforces and carries them out, and the judiciary acts independently under a constitutional democracy. Neither democratic leaders nor “presidents-for-life” is elected tyrants. They are elected for set periods and must accept the results of democratic elections, even if it means losing control of the government. Executive power is generally limited in constitutional democracies in three ways: through a system of checks and balances that separates the national government’s executive, legislative, and judicial powers; through federalism, which divides power between the national and state/local governments; and through constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights. In a parliamentary system, the executive arm of government is led by a prime minister and is formed by the majority party in the legislature. In a parliamentary system, the legislative and executive branches are not fully separate, because the prime minister and cabinet members are chosen from the legislature. In such regimes, the political opposition plays a key role in reducing or restraining the executive’s power. In a presidential system, the president and members of the legislature are chosen separately. Both the president and the legislature have their own power bases and political constituencies under a presidential system, which serve to check and balance each other. Democracies do not require their governments to be weak, only limited. Consequently, democracies may be slow to reach an agreement on national issues; yet when they do, their leaders can act with great authority and confidence. Leaders in a constitutional democracy operate under the rule of law, which defines and limits their authority at all times.|
|In a democracy, elected representatives — whether members of a parliament, assembly, or congress — serve the people. They play a variety of roles that are critical to the smooth operation of a healthy democracy. In a representative democracy, elected legislatures are the primary forum for deliberating, debating, and passing laws. They aren’t “rubber stamp” legislatures that just approve an authoritarian leader’s actions. Oversight and investigation powers enable legislators to publicly question government officials about their actions and decisions, as well as serve as a check on the power of various government ministries — particularly in a presidential system of government in which the legislature is separate from the executive. Legislators have the power to approve national budgets, hold hearings on important subjects, and confirm executive nominations to courts and other positions. Legislatures are often bicameral, with two chambers, and new laws generally require passage by both the upper and lower chambers.|
|An Independent Judiciary|
|Independent and professional judges are the foundation of a fair, impartial, and constitutionally guaranteed system of courts of law known as the judiciary. This independence does not imply judges can make decisions based on personal preferences but rather that they are free to make lawful decisions — even if those decisions contradict the government or powerful parties involved in a case. In democracies, independence from the political pressures of elected officials and legislatures guarantees the impartiality of judges. Judicial rulings should be impartial, based on the facts of a case, individual merits and legal arguments, and relevant laws, without any restrictions or improper influence by interested parties. These principles ensure equal legal protection for all. The power of judges to review public laws and declare them in violation of the nation’s constitution serves as a fundamental check on potential government abuse of power — even if the government is elected by a popular majority. This power, however, requires that the courts be seen as independent and able to rest their decisions upon the law, not political considerations. Whether elected or appointed, judges must have job security or tenure, guaranteed by law, in order that they can make decisions without concern for pressure or attack by those in positions of authority. A civil society recognizes the importance of professional judges by providing them with adequate training and remuneration. Trust in the court system’s impartiality — in its being seen as the “non-political” branch of government — is a principal source of its strength and legitimacy. A nation’s courts, however, are no more immune from public commentary, scrutiny, and criticism than other institutions. Freedom of speech belongs to all: judges and their critics alike. To ensure their impartiality, judicial ethics require judges to step aside (or “recuse” themselves) from deciding cases in which they have a conflict of interest. Judges in a democracy cannot be removed for minor complaints, or in response to political criticism. Instead, they can be removed only for serious crimes or infractions through the lengthy and difficult procedure of impeachment (bringing charges) and trial — either in the legislature or before a separate court panel. People can trust an independent judiciary to make decisions based on the nation’s laws and constitution, rather than shifting political power or the pressures of a brief majority. With this independence, the judicial system in a democracy protects the rights and liberties of the people.|
|A written constitution explains the basic structure of a country’s government and contains the most essential laws by which its citizens agree to live. As a result, democratic constitutionalism offers the foundation for administering a democracy, based on ideas of individual liberty, community rights, and restricted government power. Constitutionalism understands that democratic and responsible administration must be accompanied by constitutional constraints on government power. A constitution outlines a society’s essential goals and aspirations, including the general welfare of its citizens. The constitution requires all laws to be written in conformity with it. An independent judiciary permits citizens in a democracy to dispute laws they believe are illegal or unconstitutional, as well as seek court-ordered remedies for illegal government or official activities. Affirmative rights specify what the government must do and what citizens are entitled to. Social, economic, and cultural rights may be included as “entitlements” in the form of government guarantees of various social indicators. Guaranteed primary and secondary education for all boys and girls, guaranteed “well-being” after retirement, or jobs and health care for all residents are all possibilities.|
|Freedom of Speech|
|Any democracy’s lifeblood is freedom of speech and expression, especially when it comes to political and other public problems. The majority of written and oral expression is not censored by democratic governments. As a result, democracies are typically filled with many voices expressing a variety of ideas and viewpoints, some of which are even diametrically opposed. According to democratic theorists, a free and open debate will usually result in the best alternative being considered, as well as a greater likelihood of avoiding significant errors. Democracy relies on well-informed people with access to information to participate as fully as possible in their society’s public life and to criticize imprudent or oppressive government officials or policies. Citizens and their elected representatives understand that democracy requires the broadest possible access to information. The problem for a democracy is to strike a balance between defending the freedom of speech and assembly and combating discourse that incites violence, intimidation, or subversion.|
|Government accountability refers to the responsibilities of elected and unelected authorities to explain their choices and actions to the public. Government accountability is achieved through a range of political, legal, and administrative measures aimed at preventing corruption and ensuring that public officials are accountable to and accessible to the people they represent. Corruption may thrive in the absence of such mechanisms. Free and fair elections are the primary means of political accountability. Fixed-term offices and elections hold elected officials accountable for their actions and allow challengers to present constituents with alternative policy options. When an official’s term expires, voters may vote him or her out of office if they are dissatisfied with their performance. The degree to which public opinion can be swayed ° Conflict of interest and financial disclosure laws, requiring public officials to disclose the source of their income and assets so that citizens can judge whether their actions are likely to be influenced improperly by financial interests; ° “Sunshine” laws, allowing the press and the public access to government records and meetings; ° Citizen participation laws, requiring citizens to participate in government decisions. Administrative accountability mechanisms include offices within agencies or ministries, as well as procedures within administrative processes, all of which are aimed to guarantee that decisions are made in accordance with the law. Ethics standards safeguard “whistleblowers,” or government employees who speak out against corruption or abuse of official authority, against retaliation.|
|Free and Fair Elections|
|People living in representational democracies can choose the party makeup and future policy direction of their government through free and fair elections. Elections that are free and fair boost the chances of a peaceful transition of power. They help to ensure that losing candidates acknowledge the validity of the election results and hand over power to the new administration. However, elections alone do not guarantee democracy because dictators can tamper with the electoral process using state resources. Universal suffrage for all eligible men and women to vote — democracies do not deny this right to minorities, the disabled, or those who are literate or possess property. ° Freedom to register as a voter or not to register as a voter. Absentee ballots – allow voters who will be unable to vote on election day to cast ballots in advance of the election.|
|Freedom of Religion|
|In regards to religious faith, all citizens should be allowed to follow their conscience. The right to worship alone or with others, in public or private, and to participate in religious observance, practice, and teaching without fear of persecution from the government or other groups in society is included in the concept of religious freedom. All persons have the right to worship or congregate in connection with a religion or belief, as well as to build and maintain places for these purposes. Religious freedom, like other fundamental human rights, is not created or granted by the state, but it should be protected by all states. The protection of religious freedom is enshrined in the constitutions of democracies. Despite the fact that many democracies opt to maintain a formal separation of church and state, the ideals of the two are inextricably linked. Allow interfaith movements to thrive as people of diverse faiths seek common ground on a variety of issues and work together to solve problems that affect the entire population. Allow government and religious officials, non-governmental organizations, and media to examine complaints of religious persecution without fear of retaliation. Respect religious organizations’ ability to freely engage in and contribute to civil society, such as through the operation of faith-based schools, the management of hospitals and the care of the elderly, and the development of other programs and activities that benefit society.|
|The Rights of Women and Girls|
|Discrimination against women is defined as a differentiation, exclusion, or restriction based on gender. Democracies should work to preserve women’s rights, promote women’s participation in all sectors of society and government, and provide spaces for women to freely associate and express their opinions. Equal representation in the law and access to legal resources are among the legal rights that women have. ° Women’s rights must be clearly expressed; ambiguity over women’s legal position continues to be a major source of poverty around the world. ° Women should be able to own property and inherit it, as well as participate in the drafting and execution of constitutions and legislation. The right to vote in elections, compete for public office, and to engage in politics are all political rights that women have. Female genital mutilation must be abolished.|
|Governing by Coalitions and Compromise|
|Every civilization has (or includes) groups of people that hold opposing viewpoints on issues that affect all citizens. A liberal democracy sees this as a positive for the country and thus encourages tolerance and expression of diverse viewpoints. Democratic governments succeed when politicians and officials recognize that complicated problems rarely have obvious “right” or “wrong” solutions and that many interpretations of democratic values and societal interests exist. Open debate and exchange of ideas are facilitated by freedom of assembly and the press. This transparency allows a government to spot problems and for factions to meet and work out their disagreements. (In the private sector, the same “marketplace of ideas” provides prospects for economic growth through innovation and investment.) Coalitions are groups that work together to achieve a common goal. Because coalition governments are made up of parties with sometimes diametrically opposed ideologies, the government has the potential to fall apart. It is typical for ruling coalitions to form and break numerous times in a single year in several democracies.|
|The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations|
|Ordinary persons in democracies can form independent groups to address the needs of the town or nation they live in, complementing, supplementing, or even challenging the government’s efforts. Because they are not an extension of the government, such groups are commonly referred to as non-governmental organizations or NGOs. NGOs enable citizens from various backgrounds to learn to work together and build the skills, relationships, and trust necessary for good government by advocating, educating, and mobilizing attention around major public issues and monitoring the conduct of government and private enterprise. NGOs enable citizens from various backgrounds to learn to work together and build the skills, relationships, and trust necessary for good government. They may serve as social service providers, environmental champions, or advocates for better living and working conditions. By doing policy research and acting as watchdogs on government acts, citizens can hold the government accountable.|
|Education and Democracy|
|The right to an education is a fundamental human right. It is also a way of accomplishing other human rights and a social and economic tool that empowers people. The world’s states have agreed that everyone has the right to education through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Every society passes down its mental habits, social conventions, culture, and ideals from generation to generation. Education and democratic principles are inextricably linked: in democratic countries, educational content and practice encourage democratic governing habits. In a democracy, this educational transmission process is critical because effective democracies are dynamic, developing systems of government that require citizens to think independently. Citizens have the power to effect constructive social and political change. Governments should not take a stand on this issue. Civic groups foster a sense of belonging to a greater community.|