Representative Democracy: Meaning, Characteristics, Merits And Demerits

Table Of Contents

1. Meaning Of Democracy
2. Reasons For Representative Democracy
3. Charataristic Of Democracy
4. Representative Democracy And The Charateristic
5. Representative Democracy
6. Representative Or Indirect Democracy
7.Characteristics Of Representative democracy
8. Conditions For The Establishment Of The Representative Democracy
9. Merits Of Representative Democracy (Government)
10. Demerit Of Representative Democracy (Government)

Meaning Of Democracy

Democracy is widely understood to mean a government based on the consent of the people. A government put in place by the people. The 16th American President, Abraham Lincoln, define democracy as “The government of the people, by the people and for the people”. Democracy allows people to choose, through an organized means, those who govern them.

The word democracy originated from two Greek words, ‘demos’, meaning people and ‘kratos’ meaning power and government.

Democracy, thus, means a government system which is based on popular election and representation. In it, supreme power is vested on the people and exercised directly by them or though their elected or nominated reprensentatives.

Regarded as the best forms of government, democracy is said to be better than military government which is called (stratocracy), oligarchy(leadership by few powerfulmen) and theocracy (leadership based on an apointed spiritual leader).

Democracy began in ancient Greece where every citizen was expected to participate in the affairs and leadership of the city states. Every adult male partook in the selection/ election of the city-state leader and wherefore he misruled, he was made either to drink the hemlock or resign. The Greek city-states were pockets of small domains which accommodated all the people making the democracy a direct one.

Reasons for Representative Democracy

As society grew larger,it became impossible to have every mature adult directly involved in the business of government, and, thus, the indirect demoncracy, which is the representative democracy emerged. Owing to the large expanse of the modern state. It becomes impossible for everybody to be involved in governance.

Therefore, important governance office s were determined by representation to achive this, only credible, knowledgeable, virtuous and God-fearing men were execpected to be selected to occpy leadership positions on behalf of the people for specified number of years called tenure.

In order to ensure that no particular institution or group of people assume absolute power, a tripodal structure invested with equal powers meant to check and balance each other’s authority and excesses called arms of government were established.

These are Execution, legislative and judicial arms of government. These became the hub of government and governance, making it possible for the people to trust in their government. This is so because they send their representatives to these arms where compromise and agreements hold sway for the benefits of the messes.

The modern day democracy has certain basic features or characteristics which promote its popularity among nations. These features are discussed in the next unit.

Characteristics Of Democracy

1. Respect for the principal of rule of law.

2. Periodic, regular, free and fair election.

3. Constitutional governance.

4. Effective/ popular participation.

5. Respect for fundamental humans rights.

6. Tolerance of opposition.

7. Independent/impartial judiciary.

8. Equal political rights.

9. Population sovereignty/majority rule.

10. Freedom Of association and groups.

11. Formation of political parties.

12. Separation of power between the arms and levels of government.

13. Popular consultation.

14. Transparency and accountability.

15. Informed electorate

16. Free press(mass media)

17. Universal adult suffrage/franchise.

18. Representative government.

19. Divergent partisan ideology.

Representative Democracy And Its Characteristic

Representative Democracy:

Democracy In this modern time does not require the direct involvement of every citizen in the art of governance. Few people are usually chosen to become representatives of the entire people. The selection is done through a widely accepted method of free and fair elections democracy, therefore, thrives on the doctrines or principal of representative government.

Representative Or Indirect Democracy

Democracy refers to the system of government in which the people elect representatives that take care of their interests and needs in the day-to-day governance of the state.

In other words, it is a government in which the masses exercise the governing power directly or indirectly through their representatives who are periodically elected by the people in a general election. Thus, the government is expected to respect the people’s will, mandate, demands and respond to these. Those elected rule on behalf of the people with the assurance that their interests will be protected.

Being a representative government, it is expected to be a responsible government where officials are held accountable for their action or inactions. In modern day, democracy is viable because of the practice of representative government, while a responsible government based on accountability and responsibility makes it acceptable.

Characteristics Of Representative Democracy

There are some characteristics on which representative government is based or operated upon. They include the following:

1. Periodic free and fair Election:

This is one of the major features of modern democracy. Through this the electorates are allowed to choose the candidates that would represent their interests and need in the government of the day. This also ensures peaceful change government in society.

The election through which representatives are chosen must be conducted in free and fair manner without any electoral malpractices and must be periodically done. In Nigeria, general elections into legislation and executive arms are conducted every four years.

2. Accountability Of The Government To The People:

The government should be responsive and equally accountable to the people’s needs and demands because they gave them the mandate of power.

3. Tolerance of Opposition:

In real democracy, organized opposition is allowed to say their feelings and views on government policies and programmes. Both majority and minority expression should be tolerated. The majority will have their way but the minority must have a say.

4. Adequately Consultation:

A representative democracy seeks the people’s opinions on its policies, projects and programmes, because they are the beneficiaries of such government decisions.

5. Equal Participation:

Every citizen in a democratic government should be given equal opportunities to vote and be voted for in so far as they are duly qualified in the political process.

6. Rule Of Law:

The constitution should be supreme throughout the land and country as nobody is above the law.

7. Majority Rule:

Representative democracy provides opportunity for the party with majority seats or members of elected candidates to form the ruling government. Also, all issues required a two-third majority votes before decisions are adopted, taken and implemented. Such decisions, when taken, become binding on all the people.

8. Independent Electoral Commission:

In a representative government, there should be an independent and impartial electoral body that is in charge of conducting free and fair elections.

In Nigeria, we have the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in charge of conducting all elections into elective positions. However, at the state level, the state electoral commission conducts elections for councilors and local government chairmen.

9. Informed Electorate:

Political education is a must in a representative government because the electorates must know their political rights and be well informed about government policies and programmes. They shall be in position to criticize, scrutinize government policies and programmes and equally be able to offer useful suggestions and advice where necessary.

10. Free Press/ Mass Media:

The press or mass media includes all agents of public opinion and the watchdog that speaks through the voice or by pen. They should be free and able to gather, analyze and disseminate information through print and electronic means or by documentary methods. They relate information from the government to the government without bias.

11. Popular Sovereignty:

In a representative government, the ultimate political power resides with the people. So the elected representatives exercise this political power on behalf of the people. The people that voted them into various political positions equally have the power to vote them out or remove them through the electoral process called recall.

12. Up-to-date Electoral Register Of Voters:

There must be an up-to-date register of voters which must be validated before election in order to remove fraud and names of dead registered voters.

Conditions For The Establishment Of a Representative Government

For the success of a representative government, the following conditions must be in existence.

1. Establishment Of The Electoral System and Periodic Elections:

For a sound representative government, electoral system and periodic elections must be in place. Electoral system is that process by which citizens are allowed to directly or indirectly elect their political representatives in a democratic setting. The electoral system is usually managed by an electoral body or commission.

A good electoral system must provide for periodic elections, recalls, and bye elections. It must make room for an impartial and independent Electoral Commission.

There Must Also Be The Following:

a. Constituency delimitation.

b. Adoption of universal adult suffrage.

c. Voting devoid of identification and victimization.

d. Guideline for nomination.

e. Guideline for candidates’ qualification.

f. Electoral voters’ register.

g. Periodic revision of voters lists.

h. Judiciary to handle electoral cases.

i. Guides for party primaries and campaigns.

j. Mass electoral enlightenment.

All these provisions should be clearly stated because the electoral system remains the heartbeat of representative democracy.

2. Independent Judiciary:

No representative government can thrive without an independent and impartial judiciary. The Judiciary is the last hope of the common man and if the courts and judges are compromised or are biased, then democracy will be hijacked by the powerful few individuals.

For representative democracy to thrive, the judiciary must perform the following functions:

a. Adjudicate cases impartially and promptly.

b. Punish offenders/law breakers.

c. Guide and defend the constitution.

d. Determine impeccably electoral cases.

e. Protect rights and liberties of citizens.

f. Advise the president on crucial matters.

g. Help make laws and give interpretation to the laws so far made.

3. Political System and Partisan Politics:

One of the conditions for representative democracy is the institution of political system. Political parties are usually the platform from which choices of political leaders are made through credible elections.

The constitution stipulates whether or not the representative democracy will be practiced based on zero party system, one party system, two party system or multi-party system. It stipulates whether or not there could be independent candidates ( candidates not affiliated to any political party).

4. Fundamental Human Rights:

Fundamental Human Rights are rights of every person as enshrined in and protected by the constitution and the civil court.

The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria articulates the fundamental rights are seen as entitlements to be enjoyed by all Nigerians irrespective of sex, tribe or creed. These rights are also natural, legal and political and every responsible government strives to protect them.

Some of these rights are very essential to the success of representative democracy, such as freedom of forming and joining any political party of one’s choice, freedom of speech, freedom of association and movement and freedom of the press which allows journalists to publish and disseminate information without hindrance or molestation.

There is right to personal liberty and protection from imprisonment without trial and equally the right to hold an opinion and change such opinion when one wishes.

5. Rule of law:

The rule of law preaches the supremacy of the laws of the constitution and the equality of all before the law, be it the ruled or rulers.

The rule of law must be recognized for any representative democracy to succeed or survive. Its operation entrenches what is known as constitutional government or simplu constitutionalism.