Politics in Minutes (2016)

Democracy and democratic institutions

Winston Churchill famously quipped, ‘Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’ Ideally, democracy is a system that enables citizens to decide the way in which their society is organized and governed, a government ‘of, by and for the people’, (see here) but how far modern forms of democracy have achieved this in practice is debatable, and varies from state to state.

The original Ancient Greek model of democracy, in which all eligible citizens participated directly in decision-making, would be impracticable in most societies, and so has been modified to a system of representatives elected by popular vote. The disadvantage, as some critics have pointed out, is that it runs the risk of merely legitimizing a small ruling elite. To minimize this risk, most democracies have strict and often complex legal frameworks based on a constitution, setting out the powers and limitations of governments and how they are elected.