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Principles of Democracy
Terms in this set (14)
Accepting the results of an election
In elections there are winners and losers. Occasionally, the losers believe so strongly that their party or candidate is the best that they refuse to accept that they lost an election. Assuming an election has been judged "free and fair," ignoring or rejecting election results violates democratic principles. Democracy depends on a peaceful transfer of power from one set of leaders to the next, so accepting the results of a free and fair election is essential.
Control and the abuse of power
One of the most common abuses of power is corruption, which occurs when government officials use public funds for their own benefit or they exercise power in an illegal way. To protect against these abuses, democratic governments are often structured to limit the powers
of government offices and the people who work for them. For example, the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government have distinct functions and can "check and balance" the powers of other branches. In addition, independent agencies can investigate and impartial courts can punish government leaders and employees who abuse power.
In a democracy all individuals are valued equally, have equal opportunities, and may not be discriminated against because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Individuals and groups maintain their rights to have different cultures, personalities, languages,
and beliefs. All are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law without discrimination.
All democracies strive to value human life and dignity and to respect and protect the human rights of citizens. Examples include, but are not limited to the following:
Movement: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of his or her country. Everyone has the right to leave and to return to his or her
country. (Article 13, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Religion: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right includes freedom to change his or her religion and to worship alone or in community with. It also includes the right to not worship or hold religious beliefs. (Article 18, UDHR)
Speech: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions
without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information with others. (Article19, UDHR)
Assembly: Everyone has the right to organize peaceful meetings or to take part in meetings in a peaceful way. It is
undemocratic to force someone to belong to a political group or to attend political meetings or rallies. (Article 20, UDHR)
People in a democracy must have some form of economic freedom. This means that the government allows some private ownership of property and businesses. People are allowed to choose their own work and to join labor unions. The role the government should play in the economy is debated, but it is generally accepted that free markets should exist in a democracy and the state (government) should not totally control the economy. Some people
argue that the state should play a stronger role in countries where great inequality of wealth exists due to past discrimination or other unfair practices.
Bill of Rights
Most democratic countries have a list of citizens' rights and freedoms. Often called a "Bill of Rights," this document limits the power of government and explains the freedoms that are guaranteed to all people in the country. It protects people from a government that might abuse its powers. When a Bill of Rights becomes part of a country's constitution, the courts have the power to enforce these rights.
In a democracy, elected and appointed officials are responsible for their actions and have to be accountable to the people. Officials must make decisions and perform their duties according to the will and wishes of the people they represent, not for themselves or their friends.
One of the most basic principles of a democracy is citizen participation in government. Participation is more than just a right—it is a duty. Citizen participation may take many forms,
including running for office, voting in elections, becoming informed, debating issues, attending community meetings, being members of private voluntary organizations, paying taxes, serving on a jury, and even protesting. Citizen participation builds a stronger democracy.
Democratic societies are politically tolerant. This means that while the majority of the people rule in a democracy, the rights of minorities must be protected. A democratic society is often composed of people from different cultures, races, religions, and ethnic groups who have
viewpoints that differ from a majority of the population. People who are not in power must be allowed to organize and speak out. Political minorities are sometimes referred to as "the opposition" because they may have ideas which are different from the controlling majority.
If the people in the majority try to destroy the rights of people in minority groups or with minority viewpoints, then they also destroy democracy.
The rule of law
In a democracy, no one is above the law—not even a king, elected president, police officer, or member of the military. Everyone must obey the law and will be held accountable if they violate it. Democracy also insists that laws are equally, fairly, and consistently enforced.
In democracies, courts and the judicial system are impartial. Judges and the judiciary branch must be free to act without influence or control from the executive and legislative branches of government. They should also not be corrupt or obligated to influential individuals, businesses, or political groups. These ideas are related to the rule of law and to controlling the abuse of power. An independent judiciary is essential to a just and fair legal system.
Regular free and fair elections
One way citizens express their will is by electing officials to represent them in government. In a democracy elections are held regularly, usually every few years. Democracy insists that elected officials are chosen by the people in a free and fair manner. Most adult citizens should have
the right to vote and to run for office—regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, and level of wealth. Additionally, obstacles should not exist which make it difficult for people to vote. There should be no intimidation, corruption, or threats to citizens before or during an election.
Multi party system
To have a democracy, more than one political party must participate in elections and play a role in government. A multi-party system allows for organized opposition to the party that wins the election. Multiple parties provide the government with different viewpoints on issues and provide voters with a choice of candidates, parties, and policies. Historically, when a country only has one party, the result has been a dictatorship
For government to be accountable, the people must be aware of the actions their government is taking. A transparent government holds public meetings and allows citizens to attend. In a democracy the press and the people are able to get information about what decisions are being
made, by whom, and why.
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