Basic Principles of Democracy

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With the financial support of the "Europe for Citizens" Programme of the European Commission

"Too many people expect wonders from democracy,
when the most wonderful thing of all is just having it."
Walter Winchell

BASIC PRINCIPLES OF ACTIVE DEMOCRACY

What Is Democracy? [pic]

Democracy comes from the Greek word, "demos," meaning people. In democracies, it is the people who hold sovereign power over legislator and government. Democracy is a form of government in which power is held by people under a free electoral system. It is derived from the Greek δημοκρατία, "popular government"] which was coined from δήμος (dēmos), "people" and κράτος (kratos), "rule, strength" in the middle of the 5th-4th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens following a popular uprising in 508 BC. In political theory, democracy describes a small number of related forms of government and also a political philosophy. Even though there is no universally accepted definition of 'democracy', there are two principles that any definition of democracy includes. The first principle is that all members of the society have equal access to power and the second one that all the members enjoy universally recognized freedoms and liberties. There are several varieties of democracy some of which provide better representation and more freedoms for their citizens than others. However, if any democracy is not carefully legislated to avoid an uneven distribution of political power with balances such as the separation of powers, then a branch of the system of rule is able to accumulate power in a way that is harmful to democracy itself. The "majority rule" is often described as a characteristic feature of democracy, but without responsible government it is possible for the rights of a minority to be abused by the "tyranny of the majority". An essential process in representative democracies are competitive elections, that are fair both substantively and procedurally. Furthermore, freedom of political expression, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are essential so that citizens are informed and able to vote in their personal interests. Popular sovereignty is common but not a universal motivating philosophy for establishing a democracy. In some countries, democracy is based on the philosophical principle of equal rights. Many people use the term "democracy" as shorthand for liberal democracy, which may include additional elements such as political pluralism, equality before the law, the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances, due process, civil liberties, human rights, and elements of civil society outside the government. In the United States, separation of powers is often cited as a supporting attribute, but in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the dominant philosophy is parliamentary sovereignty (though in practice judicial independence is generally maintained). In other cases, "democracy" is used to mean direct democracy. Though the term "democracy" is typically used in the context of a political state, the principles are also applicable to private organizations and other groups.

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Though democracy has its origins in Ancient Greece other cultures have significantly contributed to the evolution of democracy such as Ancient India, Ancient Rome, Europe, and North and South America. Democracy has been called the "last form of government" and has spread considerably across the globe. Suffrage has been expanded in many jurisdictions over time from relatively narrow groups (such as wealthy men of a particular ethnic group), but still remains a controversial issue with regard to disputed territories, areas with significant immigration, and countries that exclude certain demographic groups. The contemporary interpretation of democracy from the political point of view is that it is a system of government in which a...
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