Democracy is the control of a State by members of its population either directly or through elected representatives via periodic free and fair elections. Simply put, “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people” – Abraham Lincoln (16th President of the United States of America, 1861). The word Democracy is coined from a Greek word to mean “Rule by the people”. In an Ideal democracy or an Ideal Democratic State, the poor, who usually form the majority of the Society are supposed to govern through the elected few who would represent their interest in Parliament, however, in reality, the minority which is made up of the richer members of the population are given the Upper hand in the decision of matters that affect the State. Features of a Democracy include; Periodic free and fair elections, Tolerance of opposition, Accountability of the government to the people, Rule of Law, Political equality, Independence of the Judiciary, Press Freedom, Multi-Party system and Respect for Human Rights. There are three pillars of Democracy namely – The Legislative, Executive and the Judiciary. The Legislative simply makes Laws that should benefit the people, the executive brings these laws to actualization and the judiciary interprets the law, checks the powers of the government and punishes offenders.
From the time of Ancient Greece, democracy has evolved from Direct/Athenian democracy to other forms of indirect democracy and over the years, there have been changes in issues such as discrimination as to who can vote and be voted for, human rights, and conflict resolution. However, there are still challenges in global democracy.
As George Orwell pointed out in his 1946 Essay on ‘Politics and English Language’, the word Democracy could be interpreted to mean different things to different people and some use it as a misleading term. For example, Nigeria, my home country is said to practice Democracy, but only on paper as certain practices such as rigging elections, human rights violation, disregard of the rule of law and decision of the courts are evident.
The Democracy Index of 2018, – an index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a UK-based company which measures the state of democracy in 167 countries, of which 166 are sovereign states and 164 are UN member states- categorizes each country in one of four regime types: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes based on four parameters:
- ‘Whether national elections are free and fair’;
- ‘The security of voters’;
- ‘The influence of foreign powers on government’;
- ‘The capability of the civil servants to implement policies
From the Democracy Index, a greater percentage of countries in Europe and America such as Ireland, Iceland, and New Zealand are full democracies that score higher points in the areas of electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, Political participation, Political Culture, and Civil liberties. Also, the Index records flawed democracies that still score high points, for example, countries such as South Korea and Japan in Asia, Botswana in Africa scored relatively high points, However, countries with Hybrid and Authoritarian Regimes such as Nigeria, Gabon, and a majority of countries in Africa and Asia scored the lowest points.
The Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)’s Flagship report on The Global State of Democracy titled; ‘The Global State of Democracy 2019: Addressing the Ills, Reviving the Promise’ also known as the Global Health Check of Democracy, outlined some of the problems with global democracy in 2019, such as; the crisis of representation of political parties and the rise of populism; patterns and conditions of democratic backsliding; the empowerment of civil society in a shrinking civic space; managing electoral processes in challenging environments; corruption and the role of money in politics; and the impact of information communications technologies on democracy. The report also provides an in-depth analysis of the state of democracy in the different regions of the world: Africa and the Middle East, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific and Europe. In Africa for example, one of the positive developments of democracy according to the Report is the expansion of democracy since 1975, second only to Latin America and the Caribbean also, representative governments have been strengthened in Africa compared to the report from previous years while some negative developments include; flawed conduct of elections, an array of challenges inhibits the implementation of regional and country-level initiatives in Africa on gender equality, high levels of corruption as well as low levels of judicial independence. All of these challenges to democracy are visible in my home country, Nigeria, which explains why I am passionate about the issue of democracy.
Democracy as an international issue not only affects international peace but limits the thrive of Human rights. The democratic States always find alternative means to settle disputes thereby saving the State and its citizens the cost of going to war. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16) builds on the premise that ‘governance matters’: it reflects a commonly accepted understanding that democracy, peace, and development outcomes are inherently intertwined, and that reducing violence, delivering justice and combatting corruption are all essential to achieving sustainable development.
Despite all of the changes that need to be addressed, civil society has been reclaiming democracy. Just in the past year, citizen and student-led initiatives have facilitated social change. Worldwide, citizens have made strides in gun control, confronted sexual harassment, gained political representation for women, and increased electoral management standards. These movements have been mobilized in both offline and online spaces, and have proved that we have the power to reshape democracy.
Democracy can be complicated and even messy at times, but it is an essential human right. Improving democracy means improving standards of living, national and global economies, and security. Democracy has evolved and must continue to evolve to meet the growing needs of States.