Croatian Facts about Democracy

A democracy is a form of government in which the people, either directly or indirectly, take part in governing. The word democracy originates from Greek, "demos" meaning "the people" and "kratein" meaning "to rule" or "the people to rule" which meant literally: "Rule by the People."

Distinctions

Democratic governments can be divided into different types, based on a number of different distinctions. One such distinction is that between "direct" and "indirect" democracy.

Direct democracy

A direct democracy is a political system in which all citizens are allowed to influence policy by means of a direct vote, or referendum, on any particular issue. Because direct democracy disperses power throughout many people, policy decisions are likely to be made for the benefit of the majority, not for the benefit of factions or those who hold power.

Indirect democracy

Indirect democracy is a broad term describing a means of governance by the people through elected representatives. One critique of indirect democracy is that it centralizes power into the hands of a few, thereby increasing the likelihood of corruption in government.

The more familiar representative democracy is a system in which the people elect government officials who then make decisions on their behalf.

Essentially, a representative democracy is a form of indirect democracy in which representatives are democratically selected, and usually harder to recall.

Role of party

Some critics of representative democracy argue that party politics mean that representatives will be forced to follow the party line on issues, rather than either the will of their conscience or constituents. But it can also be argued that the electors have expressed their will in the election, which puts the emphasis on the program the candidate was elected on, which he then is supposed to follow. One emerging problem with representative democracies is the increasing cost of political campaigns which lends the candidates to making deals with well heeled supporters for legislation favorable to those supporters once the candidate is elected.

Right to vote and to candidate

One important issue in a democracy is the limitations on rights to candidate and on suffrage or franchise - that is the decision as to who ought to be entitled to vote. In the Athenian democracy, slaves and women were prohibited from voting. These, and racial prohibitions, have been common in democracies. Often they are closely connected to legal personhood issues.

A recent example of how the "right to vote" changed over history is New Zealand, which was the first country to give women the right to vote (September 19, 1893), however not the right to be elected. Women voting and participating in politics in Europe and the Americas is, largely, a 20th century phenomenon.

In the European Union every citizen has the right to participate in the elections of the European Parliament. However, not every vote is counted equally: Voters from bigger countries are significantly underrepresented relative to voters from smaller countries. E.g., a vote from Luxembourg carries 12 times as much weight as does a vote from Germany.

Elections as rituals

Elections are not a sufficient condition for the existence of democracy, in fact elections can be used by totalitarian regimes or dictatorships to give a false sense of democracy.

Tyranny of the majority

When there is a very broad and inclusive franchise, but also on some issues with only a few elite voters, majority rule often gives rise to a fear of so-called "tyranny of the majority," i.e. fear of a majority empowered to do anything it wanted to an adversary minority. For example, it is theoretically possible for a majority to vote that a certain religion should be criminalized, and its members punished with death.

Scaling to global Democracy

Direct democracy becomes more and more difficult, and necessarily more closely approximates representative democracy, as the number of citizens grows. Historically, the most direct democracies would include the New England town meeting, the political system of the ancient Greek city states and Oligarchy of Venice.

We can view direct and indirect democracies as ideal types, with actual democracies approximating more closely to the one or the other, and such alternatives as semi-direct democracy in between.

Some modern political entities are closest to direct democracies, such as Switzerland or some U.S. States, where frequent use is made of referenda, and means are provided for referenda to be initiated by petition instead of by members of the legislature or the government.