What is a democracy?

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Democracy is a system of government where the majority of a population elects representatives to govern the country. It literally means 'rule of the people', stemming from the Greek work 'demos' which means people.

In a democracy, the elected representatives, (in other words, the government which is voted in) gain legitimacy by securing the vote of the majority.

Five defining characteristics are generally regarded as symbolising a democracy. These are:

1. Elected representatives - representatives of government are elected by the people.
2. Elections are held to elect those representatives - these must be fair, transparent and according to state law.
3. Civil liberties - this includes freedoms and rights which citizens are entitled to have such as the freedoms of expression, speech, and political participation.
4. Rule of law - the law must see all citizens as equal. No one is above the law.
5. An organised opposition - this is an important characteristic of democracy as it ensures the freedom of opposing parties to criticise any wrong policies of the current government.

The majority of democracies around the world that meet these criteria are therefore regarded as liberal democracies. An example of this is the UK. On the contrary, an illiberal democracy is one in which some of these criteria are met but where the real power of citizens are curtailed, since they may lack civil liberties and freedoms. An example of this is Hungary.

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