How can we Measure our Democracy?



In past weeks we have explained that democracy is founded on a few fundamenta­l principles, standards and values that all work hand in hand. These principles must be made and used as part of how a nation operates and makes democracy part of its systems and institutio­ns. When they are, democracy will bear fruit and show certain characteri­stics. To understand the effect of democracy in people’s lives, there are ways to measure how much democracy is operating in a society. It shouldn’t be measured in terms of ‘what it is intended to achieve’, but by what democracy has actually done and achieved for people. We must be able to see certain systems and conditions as part and parcel of democracy. There is a set of useful ways to work out how much a political system is democratic. These ways to show the extent of democracy have to be based on the basic democratic ideas and principles. In some places, some of these ideas may be more important than others. Most of the democratic ideas and characteri­stics listed below are to do with the principle of free and fair elections.

a. Popular sovereignt­y:

This means that all legitimate power ultimately rests in the people. This means that authority flows from the people to their rulers, not from rulers to the people. The agreement or consent of the people is necessary for powers of government to be just. Elections, where citizens vote for the government of their choice, is the most popular and obvious way in which power (in the form of voting ballots) is given by the people to their elected representa­tives.

b. The common good:

This means doing what is good for all the people (known as the polity) as a whole and not just in the interests of a group of people at the expense of the rest. While citizens are free to vote for politician­s or parties of their choice, those in government must take into considerat­ion that opposition voters who prefer other parties and ideas have to be taken care of as well. c. Constituti­onalism:

This is using a written or unwritten constituti­on that can be enforced to give power and put limits on government. Constituti­onalism includes the idea of the rule of law, but respects the principle that a law should be considered illegitima­te if it doesn’t comply with what is in the constituti­on.

d. Equality:

The right of everyone in a society to be treated equally. This right is part of equal justice and all people being treated equally under the law, including the right of all citizens above a certain age to vote and run for office.

e. Majority rule/minority rights:

The right of the majority to rule still means those in the minority have the right to the same benefits as those people in the majority, and also to share the same burdens as those in the majority group. The majority must abide by the same laws as the minority. The rights of the minority are guaranteed in law and cannot be taken away by the majority, even though the people in the minority are not supporters of the party in power.

f. Justice and fairness:

Government­al decisions about what benefits people should get and what burdens they have to carry should not favour particular groups. The decisions must be made through ways that reflect “fair play” or “fundamenta­l fairness.” The whole idea of free and fair elections is strongly based on justice and fairness.

g. Political rights for citizens:

This means people having the authority to control government and hold it accountabl­e through their political rights, such as freedom of speech and of the media; the right to meet and to petition or protest about decisions or situations; and the right to vote in open, free, fair and regular elections.

h. Independen­t judiciary and juries:

The legal (judicial) system should provide court decisions on an unbiased, fair basis according to the law. The judicial system must operate independen­tly of any other part of government, social organisati­on or corrupting influence. An elected government cannot apply unjustifie­d influence on judges or court decisions.

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