Democracy and Political Participation
What is Democracy?
- Type of political system à Involves citizen participation to varying degrees.
- It literally means ‘rule by the people’
- Democracy has a number of variations: Direct Democracy, Representative Democracy, Liberal Democracy, and Pluralist Democracy.
- Idea that a govt or any political institution has a democratic right to hold political power. This is contestable because it is not always clear whether an institution is legitimate. à The House of Lords is arguably not legitimate because it is not elected
UK Governments are elected on a minority of the popular vote, this therefore challenges legitimacy.
The PM has no legal basis for his/her power.
Some regimes seize power by force à e.g. Cuba
Some are one party states, e.g. China lacks democratic legitimacy.
Some are Sham Democracies, e.g. Iran
Some are hereditary monarchies, e.g. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain.
One of two things:
1. The people make important decisions; not representatives.
2. People are directly involved in decision making; they are consulted & opinions are sought regularly.
Referendums are the most common form of direct democracy:
- Involves a single yes/no question
- Can be national, regional, local
- Can be legally binding; not in UK à But still listened to mostly
- When a petition is organised on an issue. If enough people sign, a referendum must be held. Rare in UK; occurs most famously in California.
- Carried out by govts before decision is made.
- E.g. Local authority asks community how they would prefer funds to be allocated.
- Internet makes things easier.
- Not binding
- Influential in some cases
- UK Parl à Not often debated or influential but since 2010, petitions are debated if they reach 100,000 signatures.
- Scotttish Parliament à Special Committee to consider petitions. Those with more support must be debated by whole Parl.
- Internet makes petitions more feasible.
Direct Democracy – Evaluation
- Purest form of democracy
- Disperses power widely among population & prevents concentration of power in few hands.
- Decisions are more acceptable to general population.
- Can prevent decision makers from making mistakes
- Increases popular participation and therefore enhances democracy
- Referendums and consultations are a form of political education for the general population
- Referendums can ‘entrench’ / safeguard important constitutional changes.
- Majoritarianism à Govt by a simple majority. May lead to ‘tyranny of the majority,’ oppressing minority in the process.
- Some decisions are too complex for the people to understand.
- DD often creates an emotional response; rather than a rational response, from people and media.
- DD can be subverted / distorted by wealthy groups who…