What is democracy?

The term ‘democracy’ derives from the Greek word, “demokratia”, which can be translated simply as ‘rule by the people’. It is used to describe a system of government that allows people to have an influence over government decisions and have access to independent sources of information. As this general definition is broad, there are various different forms of democracy, the two key types being direct democracy and representative democracy.

Direct democracy, also known as consultative democracy, typically refers to the type of democracy that was seen in Ancient Athens. This form of democracy requires the people to make the decisions themselves and to be directly consulted on government issues. Athenian democracy was direct democracy in its purest form as those who were eligible to vote could have a say in every decision that the government was faced with. However, as most modern societies are densely populated, this specific style of government is more impractical today. Therefore, one way in which direct democracy can be practiced now is through referendums. These are questions proposed to settle important political issues that require ‘yes' or 'no’ answers, for example the EU referendum on June 23rd 2016 will ask people whether they would like to leave the EU or stay in it.

Representative democracy differs from direct democracy because rather than being directly influential in government affairs, the people are indirectly involved in the decision-making process. An intermediary, in the form of a representative, is the people’s point of contact and the power to make most decisions, that influence government, is delegated to the representative. In Britain, MPs are the representatives for constituencies and they are elected by the people every five years in general elections. This gives them legitimacy, the right to exercise power, which is an important democratic principle. Rather than the people individually voting on specific issues, MPs will consider what is best for their constituents and vote accordingly on their behalf.

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