Understanding Democracy


The word “democracy” describes a political system. In a democratic country, all eligible citizens have the right to participate, either directly or indirectly, in making the decisions that affect them. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) defined democracy as: Government of the people, by the people, for the people. Democracy is by far the most challenging form of government, both for politicians and for the people. The term democracy comes from the Greek language and means “rule by the (simple) people”.


A functioning democracy is the form of government that provides its citizens with the most freedom, the most opportunity, the greatest prosperity, unity for a cause and the most comfortable life. It is also the most stable form of the government and by far the most efficient. The best thing is that the common man in the country has an opinion and his opinion can be heard by the government.

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried”– Winston Churchill

Direct Democracy

In a direct democracy people decide the policy initiatives directly– this is different from the most common system today, representative democracy. Direct democracy is similar to, but distinct from, representative democracy, in which people vote for representatives who then enact policy initiatives. In India at village level, we have direct democracy, “gram sabhas” i.e. “village assembly”. All the registered voters of the village are members of the sabha and they meet to take decisions.

Representative Democracy

Representative democracy (also indirect democracy) is a type of democracy founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracy. This is a type of democracy followed by the western countries like United Kingdom, Ireland and United States.


Some economists have criticized the efficiency of democracy, citing the premise of the irrational voter, or a voter who makes decisions without all of the facts or necessary information in order to make a truly informed decision. Another argument is that democracy slows down processes because of the amount of input and participation needed in order to go forward with a decision. A common example often quoted to substantiate this point is the high economic development achieved by China (a non-democratic country) as compared to India (a democratic country). According to economists, the lack of democratic participation in countries like China allows for unfettered economic growth.

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