NAME: ONUSELOGU, CHINASA IFEOMA
SCHOOL: UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA ENUGU CAMPUS
TOPIC: THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DEMOCRACY WE LIVE IN
It is important to live in a democracy although it may have its problems or demerits. It is better off than any other form of government (2008 European Values Study found that 88 percent of people in Britain agree to this assertion).
Although Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States (1861-1865) popularized democracy as the ‘government of the people by the people and for the people,’ it has come to mean different things to different people in the course of history. Democracy has diverse meanings.
DEFINITION OF DEMOCRACY
Democracy is a form of government or political structure or system wherein the citizens of a particular state, either directly or through representatives periodically elected by them exercise their governing power. For instance, in United States of America, the government is elected by the people, but it is not made up of all the people in the country. Instead, representatives are elected, to represent the interest of the people.
Examples of countries that practice democracy includes, but not limited to: Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Ireland, New Zealand etc.
DIRECT DEMOCRACY: Here, the citizens come together periodically, to reach a decision or agreement concerning issues affecting them or community at large. They usually act under the procedures of majority rule.
INDIRECT DEMOCRACY: under this system of government, the qualified citizens choose their own representatives to rule on their behalf. This is also seen as ‘REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY’ The sole purpose for the election of the representatives, is to serve the interests of the citizens e.g local government; and if not properly checked, can lead to diverse demerits or disadvantages.
The rapid increase in the population growth has lead to the adoption of indirect democracy in many countries, since it is difficult to practice direct democracy with the population rise. Indirect democracy has come to stay in modern political systems.
CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY: This is similar to a representative government, also known as representative democracy. Here, the powers of the majority are exercised within a framework of constitutional restraints. This would guarantee or lead to political liberty, separation of powers, rule of law, independence of the the judiciary and the supremacy of the constitution etc.
THE HISTORY OF DEMOCRACY
The French Revolution (1789) and the outbreak of the Great War, World War I (1914) are remarkable in the history of government for two developments- the rise of democracy and that of nationalism.
However, our main focus here is on democracy.
The term “democracy” first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the city- state of Athens during Classical antiquity. The word comes from DEMOS, “COMMON PEOPLE” and “KRATOS”, “STRENGTH”.
Led by Cleisthenes, Athenians established what is generally held as the first democracy in 508-507BC.
Cleisthenes is referred to as “Father of Athenian Democracy.”
Athenian Democracy took the form of a direct democracy.
In Ancient Athens, where the idea of democracy arguably was born, the word “demos” originally meant district or land. Significant social groups were excluded from political participation, notably women, slaves and foreigners. In many modern democracies, it was only in the 20th century, that women obtained the right of franchise as the “Suffrage movement in Britain testified.”
The number of states qualifying as democracies has grown five times since the end of World War II. According to one categorization, whereas in 1950, there were about 20 democracies in the world, this number grew to 40 by 1975, and to 120 out of the 193 states in today’s world.
The largest increase has occurred since 1991 following the end of the cold war and breakup of the Soviet Union.
Even most of the states that do not meet the basic democratic criteria of public participation and contestation, with freedom of choice, have found it imperative at least to adopt the vocabulary democracy and claim some relevant measures of political legitimacy to brand their governmental systems as popular, representing the will of the majority of their respective publics.
In 2007, the UNITED NATIONS declared 15th September, the International Day of Democracy.
THE IMPORTACE OF THE DEMOCRACY WE LIVE IN
The prevailing wisdom regarding public attitudes to democracy is that the public are committed to the ideal of democracy and consider it important to live in although they may be dissatisfied with the way democracy works in practice.
(Dalton, 2004, Norris, 2011)
Although in a democratic system of government, the candidate or the party with the highest number of votes is declared the winner by the electoral body, Nigeria being a democratic country, recognizes the rights of the minorities even as it is entrenched in the constitution. They have the right to elect their representatives and to be part of the privileges provided for.
FREE CHOICE OF LEADERS: It gives the electorate the opportunity to elect leaders of their choice. Under this head, we have participatory democracy and electoral democracy.
PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY: Here, the government explains it’s decisions to voters.
The citizens have the final say on the most important issues by referendum.
ELECTORAL DEMOCRACY: National elections are free and fair. Governing parties are punished in elections when they have done a bad job.
Different political parties offer clear alternatives to one another.
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY: It ensures equal opportunity for all citizens in all spheres of life.
STABILITY: Democracy promotes stability in the country. A bad government can be removed from office peacefully through the process of voting.
LEGITIMACY: It gives legitimacy to the elected government. This is because the elected government has the support of the people.
OPERATION OF THE RULE OF LAW: Those in government rule according to the provisions of the constitution.
MISUSE OF POWER: Democracy does not allow for misuse of power because power is not concentrated in the hands of one person.
TOLERANCE: Democracy encourages tolerance of the views of the opposition. The majority will have its way, but the minority must have its say.
EQUALITY OF INDIVIDUALS: There is individual equality, freedom and protection of their possessions and their rights where democracy operates.
For example under SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, the government protects all citizens against poverty. This is done by reducing the differences in income levels.
LIBERAL DEMOCRACY: the courts treats everyone the same.
The courts stop the government from acting above its authority.
The rights of the minority groups are protected.
SUPERIORITY: Democracy is superior to other forms of government because the rights and interests of every person is guaranteed.
PARTICIPATION IN GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS: The individual is lifted above the narrow circle of his ego and his interests are also broadened. It makes him interested in his country and this gives him a sense of responsibility.
DECISION-MAKING: Decision is reached through discussion, argument and persuasion. Democracy does not believe in suppression of opinion.
EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE: Citizens who are educated are a pillar of an effectively functioning democracy. The public is educated through newspaper news and opinion sections which create a marketplace of ideas and forums to debate issues pertinent to communities.
For instance, during the VIETNAM war, the media was largely credited for shifting the public’s view on whether or not the UNITED STATES should continue its involvement.
Furthermore, newspapers play a role in ensuring that the public choose the best politicians to lead the country, which can prove instrumental during a war.
This is integrated to the United States because it educate the public which keeps democracy thriving.
The characteristics of Democracy, include:
Free association and groups: People should be able to choose their own candidate; or support political parties without any intimidation.
National wealth: Disparity in the distribution of national wealth is progressively reduced.
Separation of powers: The powers of the three organs of government, are separated both in functions and personnel.
A democratic system of government is important for our modern political system. Its benefits need not be over emphasized since it is glaring for all to see. Although in most countries, democracy is to be regarded as a shadow of itself, but through participation of all citizens constructively, we would build an idea and better democratic government for all to live in.