Democracy is a form of government in which the exercise of political power rests in the collective will of all eligible or adult citizens either directly or indirectly. It is generally accepted that there is no consensus definition of democracy but there are defining characteristics which distinguishes it from other forms of government where power is mostly concentrated in the hands of an individual or a select or exclusive group of individuals. As analyzed by Larry Diamond, a political scientist, democracy is characterized by four major elements. These elements are:

  • - A political system that enables an electorate to choose or elect their leaders in an atmosphere of free and fair elections;
  • - A political system that encourages active involvement of citizens in the affairs of their country or community,
  • - A political platform that provides protection for the fundamental human rights of citizens;
  • - A system of government that applies the rule of law equally to all subjects and as it is supreme over all citizens within the state.

Historical Development of Democracy

Democracy as a form of government was first practiced in the Greek city states especially in Athens around 500 BC. Democracy in Athens was of the direct type where all citizens could participate fully in law making by speaking and voting in a general assembly. However, citizenship was limited to an exclusively defined section of the populace thus excluding women, slaves, those who didn’t own lands as well as males that were not up to 20 years of age. This shouldn’t be a surprise considering how the concept of citizenship was viewed in ancient times where every citizen is obliged to fight wars. This concept of citizenship effectively limited the rights of citizenship to about 15% of the population of Athens. Democracy was also practiced in the Roman Empire. Most aspects of modern democracy were developed by the Roman Empire and its Republic. Also, democracy was practiced in limited or crude forms in several countries or principalities across Europe and Asia during the middle ages.

Forms of Democracy

Theoretically and in practice, several forms of democracy have been developed and applied in various parts of the world over the years. There is the representative democracy which stands in contrast to direct democracy. The difference being that in representative democracy citizens vote to elect their representatives who then exercise political power on their behalf, whereas in direct democracy citizens vote directly on policy matters. Representative democracy is sub divided into the parliamentary and the presidential forms. There is also liberal democracy in which the rule of law is supreme. Both parliamentary and presidential forms of democracy are usually run as liberal democracies.