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What Does A Real Democracy Look Like?

let us understand what a real democracy is, in comparison with all existing democracies across the globe.


Many are familiar with the phrase of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is a government  “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”,  but the dictionary definition states democracy “is government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system”

Freedom and democracy are often used interchangeably, but the two are not synonymous. Democracy is indeed a set of ideas and principles about freedom, but it also consists of a set of practices and procedures that have been molded through a long, often tortuous history. In short, democracy is the institutionalization of freedom. For this reason, it is possible to identify the time-tested fundamentals of constitutional government, human rights, and equality before the law that any society must possess to be properly called democratic.


  • The sovereignty of the people.
  • Government based upon the consent of the governed.
  • Majority rule.
  • Minority rights.
  • Guarantee of basic human rights.
  • Free and fair elections.
  • Equality before the law.
  • Due process of law.
  • Constitutional limits on government.
  • Social, economic, and political pluralism.
  • Values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation, and compromise.

A Nation/Government that can lay out all these pillars could be considered as a Real or even an Ideal democracy. A democracy could either be Director Representative. In a Direct Democracy which is considered as Pure Democracy, all citizens, without the intermediary of elected or appointed officials, can participate in making public decisions, which is only practical with a relatively small population where all citizens can meet under a single roof to discuss issues and arrive at decisions by consensus or majority vote. Ancient Athens, the world’s first democracy, managed to practice direct democracy with an assembly that may have numbered as many as 5,000 to 6,000 persons–perhaps the maximum number that can physically gather in one place and practice direct democracy. Modern society, with its size and complexity, offers few opportunities for direct democracy, most communities have grown too large for all the residents to gather in a single location and vote directly on issues that affect their lives.

The pure form of direct democracy exists only in the Swiss cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Glarus. The Swiss Confederation is a semi-direct democracy (representative democracy with strong instruments of direct democracy). The nature of direct democracy in Switzerland is fundamentally complemented by its federal governmental structures.

 In the New England region of the United States, towns in states such as Vermont decide local affairs through the direct democratic process of the town meeting. This is the oldest form of direct democracy in the United States and predates the founding of the country by at least a century.

Governing over the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana, the Crow General Council has been the legally recognized government of the tribe since 1948. The General Council is formed out of all voting-age members of the Tribe. Council members meet biannually to nominate members to various sub-councils.

 In 2016, the Danish parliament passed a law that created an online citizens’ initiative system whereby eligible voters can propose bills. Proposals that gain the support of 50000 voters within 180 days are referred to Parliament for debate.

Today, the most common form of democracy, whether for a town of 50,000 or nations of 50 million, is a Representative Democracy, in which citizens elect officials to make political decisions, formulate laws, and administer programs for the public good. In the name of the people, such officials can deliberate on complex public issues thoughtfully and systematically that require an investment of time and energy that is often impractical for the vast majority of private citizens.

How such officials are elected can vary enormously. On the national level, for example, legislators can be chosen from districts that each elect a single representative. Alternatively, under a system of proportional representation, each political party is represented in the legislature according to its percentage of the total vote nationwide. Provincial and local elections can mirror these national models, or choose their representatives more informally through group consensus instead of elections. Whatever the method used, public officials in a representative democracy hold office in the name of the people and remain accountable to the people for their actions. All democracies are systems in which citizens freely make political decisions by majority rule. But rule by the majority is not necessarily democratic: No one, for example, would call a system fair or just that permitted 51 percent of the population to oppress the remaining 49 percent in the name of the majority. In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual human rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities–whether ethnic, religious, or political, or simply the losers in the debate over a piece of controversial legislation. The rights of minorities do not depend upon the goodwill of the majority and cannot be eliminated by a majority vote. The rights of minorities are protected because democratic laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens.

Diane Ravitch, scholar, author, and a former assistant U.S. secretary of education, wrote “When a representative democracy operates in accordance with a constitution that limits the powers of the government and guarantees fundamental rights to all citizens, this form of government is a constitutional democracy. In such a society, the majority rules, and the rights of minorities are protected by law and through the institutionalization of law.”

These elements define the fundamental elements of all modern democracies, no matter how varied in history, culture, and economy.  In a democracy, the government is only one element coexisting in a social fabric of many and varied institutions, political parties, organizations, and associations. This diversity is called Pluralism, and it assumes that the many organized groups and institutions in a democratic society do not depend upon government for their existence, legitimacy, or authority. Thousands of private organizations operate in a democratic society, some local, some national. Many of them serve a mediating role between individuals and the complex social and governmental institutions of which they are a part, filling roles not given to the government and offering individuals opportunities to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.

These groups represent the interests of their members in a variety of ways–by supporting candidates for public office, debating issues, and trying to influence policy decisions. Through such groups, individuals have an avenue for meaningful participation both in government and in their own communities. The examples are many and varied: charitable organizations and churches, environmental and neighborhood groups, business associations, and labor unions.

According to Tim Kipp,  a retired history and political science teacher of 39 years and a political activist since the 1960s. “ Real democracy is a continuum, a never-ending process that must perpetually be defended and nurtured. Real democracy happens in legislative bodies, in voting booths, and in the economic lives of us all. Economic power is an essential component of democracy because our economic lives actually supersede our political lives. Real democracy is the equal access of all people to the power that influences our economic and political lives (gender, class, sexual orientation, color). Real democracy happens at work — when workers have a fair share of the fruits of their labors and control over the work process. Real democracy recognizes that private property does not give license to exploit workers for higher profits. Real democracy recognizes that where you find political power you also find economic power. And vice versa. Real democracy does not conflate democracy with capitalism. It does not confuse a meaningless abundance of material goods with freedom. Real democracy enables all people fair access to the security of housing, employment, health, education, and leisure. Real democracy happens when there is no poverty, hunger, and racial and class inequality. Real democracy supports a comprehensive public education system that advances critical thinking and media literacy to distinguish facts from propaganda.

The forces that threaten democracy are constantly at work; they are embodied in the nature and process of our economic system. These threats can come not only from corrupt and greedy people but from the political and economic institutions themselves. Structural weaknesses can undermine democracy regardless of whether the leaders are good or bad. Real democracy recognizes the fundamental threats of the systems of privilege — white, caste/class, and corporate privilege.”

In an authoritarian society, virtually all such organizations would be controlled, licensed, watched, or otherwise accountable to the government. In a democracy, the powers of the government are, by law, clearly defined and sharply limited. As a result, private organizations are free of government control; on the contrary, many of them lobby the government and seek to hold it accountable for its actions. Other groups, concerned with the arts, the practice of religious faith, scholarly research, or other interests, may choose to have little or no contact with the government at all.

In today’s times, the key areas on which the nature of democracy is determined are Rule of Law, Electoral process and pluralism, Functioning of Government, Civil liberties, Economic freedom and Press Freedom. The global index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the research division of the Economist Group, is released periodically (mostly annually) to measure the state of democracy in all the countries by considering 60 indicators grouped in five different categories, measuring Pluralism, civil liberties and political culture. In addition to a numeric score and a ranking, the index categorises each country into one of four regime types: Full Democracies, Flawed Democracies, Hybrid Regimes and Authoritarian Regimes.

Full Democracies

  • Civil liberties and fundamental political freedoms are respected and reinforced by a political culture conducive to the thriving of democratic principles.
  • A valid system of governmental checks and balances.
  • An independent judiciary whose decisions are enforced.
  • Governments that function adequately.
  • Diverse and Independent media.

  These nations have only limited problems in democratic functioning. Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, Finland, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, and Australia. A further 13 nations, along with the first ten comprised the complete list of 23 full democracies.

To put things in perspective, Consider Norway, a full democracy with a score of 9.81 and 1st out of 167 countries on the 2020 Global Democracy index by The Economist Intelligence Unit. 2019 Human Development Index, ranked Norway 1st out of 189 countries,  Press Freedom Index 2021, ranked 1 out of 179 countries, Rule of Law Index 2020, ranked 2 out of 128. Transparency International: Corruption Perceptions Index 2020, ranked 7 out of 180, Electoral process and pluralism: ranked 1 out of 167, Functioning of government: ranked 1 out of 167, Civil liberties: ranked 1 out of 167, The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation: Index of Economic Freedom 2021, ranked 28 out of 178 countries.

 This index shows us how effective, transparent and beneficial full democracies are!

Flawed Democracies

  • Elections are fair and free.
  • Basic civil liberties are honoured

may have issues like,

  • Media freedom infringement.
  • Minor suppression of political opposition and critics.
  • Significant faults in other democratic aspects.
  • Underdeveloped political culture.
  •  Low levels of participation in politics.
  • Issues in the functioning of governance.

India, South Africa, Jamaica, Namibia, Israel, USA are some countries in the list of 53 Flawed Democracies. Here let’s consider India, the world’s largest democracy, to understand where we stand in global indexes from   2019 and 2020 related to democracy. India is a flawed democracy with a score of 6.61, standing 53rd out of 167 countries on the 2020 Global Democracy index by The Economist Intelligence Unit. 2019 Human Development Index, ranked India 131st out of 189 countries, Press Freedom Index 2021, ranked 142nd out of 179 countries, Rule of Law Index 2020, ranked 69th out of 128. Transparency International: Corruption Perceptions Index 2020, ranked 86 out of 180, Electoral process and pluralism: score 8.67, Functioning of government: score 6.79, Civil liberties: score 6.76, Political participation 6.67, Political culture 5.63, The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation: Index of Economic Freedom 2021, ranked 121 out of 178 Countries.

Hybrid Regimes

  • Regular electoral frauds, preventing them from being fair and free democracies.
  • Governments that apply pressure on political opposition.
  • Non-independent judiciaries.
  • Widespread corruption.
  • Harassment and pressure placed on the media.
  • Non-uniform rule of law.
  • More pronounced faults than flawed democracies in the realms of underdeveloped political culture.
  • Low levels of participation in politics and issues in the functioning of governance.

Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Kenya are some countries in the list of 35 Hybrid Regimes. Taking Pakistan, Our neighboring Country, It is considered a Hybrid Regime with a score of 4.31, standing 105th out of 167 countries on the 2020 Global Democracy index by The Economist Intelligence Unit. 2019 Human Development Index, ranked Pakistan 154th out of 189 countries, Press Freedom Index 2021, ranked 145th out of 179 countries, Rule of Law Index 2020, ranked 120th out of 128. Transparency International: Corruption Perceptions Index 2020, ranked 124 out of 180, Electoral process and pluralism: score 6.08, Functioning of government: score 5.71, Civil liberties: score 4.71, Political participation 2.22, Political culture 2.50, The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation: Index of Economic Freedom 2021, ranked 152 out of 178 Countries.

Authoritarian Regimes –

  • Political pluralism is nonexistent or severely limited.
  • Absolute monarchies or dictatorships.
  • May have some conventional institutions of democracy but with meagre significance.
  • Infringements and abuses of civil liberties are commonplace.
  • Elections (if they take place) are not fair and free.
  • The media is often state-owned or controlled by groups associated with the ruling regime.
  • The judiciary is not independent, and censorship and suppression of governmental criticism are commonplace.

China, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Palestine are some countries in the list of 57 Authoritarian Regimes. Consider North Korea, it is considered an Authoritarian Regime with a score of1.08, standing 167th out of 167 countries on the 2020 Global Democracy index by The Economist Intelligence Unit. 2019 Human Development index doesn’t include North Korea, Press Freedom Index 2021, ranked 179th out of 179 countries, Rule of Law Index 2020, doesn’t include North Korea, Transparency International: Corruption Perceptions Index 2020, ranked 170 out of 178 Countries. The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation: Index of Economic Freedom 2021, ranked 178 out of 178 Countries.

The numbers speak! Real democracy is a perpetually evolving system, where the people have relatively equal access to economic and political power. (Tim Kipp)


U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs.


Democracy Index


WJP Rule of Law Index

The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation: Index of Economic Freedom 2021

Transparency International: Corruption Perceptions Index 2020

Image Credits:

Carson McNamara

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