What are the challenges of democracy?
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Democracy is generally defined as government by by the people. It is assumed that the in democracy all the people in a country, state, province or region collectively govern themselves. But this is a theoretical concept rather than reality. What happens in reality is that the people elect a small number of representative to govern them. It is assumed that in this way the elected representative will act in the collective interest of all the people leading to a government in best interest of the people. But there are several challenges or problems in achieving these ideal and objectives of the government. These include the following.
- Representatives elected by people may not really be the most capable for forming the government. Not all people know what is the best way of government, or who are most capable and willing to run the government in that way. Realizing this limitation, the right to elect or vote for the representative for forming the government is restricted to majors, or people who have attained the minimum prescribed age to become eligible for voting. Though this does eliminate voting by minors, who are not considered mature enough to decide on the the matters relating to government, still there are usually many other people who may not really not able to take sound decision in this matter.
- Basically, election results in a government by a majority rather than government of all the people.
- The people elected to govern may compromise the interest of the public to serve their own interests.
- To counter the possibility of individuals becoming corrupted, and on the assumption that decision arrived at by discussion among a group of people is better than that by individuals, democratic government consists of a fairly large number of people, frequently of the order of a few hundreds. Also, there is the system of dividing all the representatives in two groups of ruling party members and opposition members to have a system of check and balances. However this makes the government decision making slow. Also it creates other problems such as maintaining confidentiality. Yet, these measures only reduce corruption to some extent but do not eliminate it.
- Since a government is dependent on votes of people. the members of the government may avoid taking decisions and action that are in the long run interest of the people, but may be unpopular in the short run.
In a sense, this depends on what we mean by "democracy." If we mean the ideal of 18th century democracy the main problem is as it has always been, the balancing of the individual's freedom against the constraints of the common good. If we mean the republican system which most modern "democracies" use, where the people elect representatives to act on their behalf in a legislative or executive manner, then we have the same problem plus an extra need to watch for corruption of those elected. The election process, and today especially the cost of that process, necessarily leaves elected officials indebted to someone or other. Debate often descends to party propaganda instead of the good of the people, and decisions are subject to pressure from ideological, economic or personal interests of those elected and their intimates.
On the international level, the same problems beset all democracies, and in addition the perhaps understandable scepticism of countries with different systems of government. When democracies act in ways reminiscent of totalitarian regimes in response to civil unrest, or occasionally in foreign policy, it becomes obvious why other governments are scornful of the self-righteousness of some democracies. The real struggle today for democracy is to maintain itself in the face of the changing 21st century world, and to continue to refine itself into a better and more complete democracy in spite of corporate greed, terrorism or blunders by our governments.
The answers you have already received are great. But really, you can see some of the problems of democracy right now by paying attention to what is happening right now. Try a reputable news source in a paper, on the Internet, on television, or on the radio.
The difficulties inherent in democracy, which are beautifully explained in the previous answers, are being played out in the controversy over healthcare reform. A majority of people elected President Obama, who promised to reform healthcare. But in order for him to reform healthcare, he needs the representatives of the people to create legislation and pass that legislation, in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.
Because those legislators are also elected by the people, they are subject to various pressures inherent in a democracy like ours. People and organizations gave them money to help them get elected. Should they create healthcare legislation that reflects the interests of those people and groups? What about the people who actually voted for them? Those people do not all agree about healthcare reform. There may be people who don't think there should even be any healthcare reform, there may be people who think there should be reform, but that the governnment should not be part of the healthcare system by creating some new health insurance plan for people, and then there are people who believe that the government should be completely responsible for ensuring that everyone in the country has healthcare. Of course, there are positions in between all of those, too.
Then a legislator must grapple with the question of what his or her duty really is. If a legislator believes there really should be universal healthcare, for the good of everyone, should he or she vote for that? Should the legislator find out what the majority of constituents in that district or state want? Should the legislator vote the way the people and organizations who provide money want him or her to vote? The legislator is always running the risk of not being re-elected, no matter which way he or she votes!
Try to learn more about this issue. There are town hall meetings frequently, in most areas of the country. Perhaps you could attend one, to see democracy in action. It can be quite messy, as you will see. I have provided you with some links to reputable news sources, which can help you see democracy and its best and worst! The newspaper links require that you register, but each is free.
One of the greatest challenges in a democratic form of government is ensuring that the electorate is well educated and engaged. Since democracy is government of the people, by the people, and for the people, it depends upon the people to play an active and informed role in their own government. If a majority of the people become uneducated, ill informed, subject to gross political manipulation, or apathetic, an effective democratic government cannot survive.
The Challenges of Democracy has become more relevant with these turbulent times as the ugly heads of dynasty politics, lobby politics, pseudo-democracy and corruption have raised their tentacles and threaten to undermine the positives of the system. The elected representatives have to be made accountable for their actions and the electorate has to be conscious of exercising their franchise in the right manner for the welfare of their nation. There should be a redefining of the eligibility of the voter, candidate and the electoral procedures to ensure that the elected representatives devote their entire energy and efforts for ensuring the development and sustained progress of their constituency and not for petty political games. The voters job should not end with voting but assess the work of their elected representative and ensure reasonable accountability. Pillars of democracy should be strengthened by rooting out corruption, streamlining the electoral process, introduce more accountablity and inculcate discipline by stricter and just judiciary.
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