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Democracies are based on a written constitution or a supreme law that serves to guide legislators and the laws they make.
Written constitutions serve as a guarantee to citizens that the government is required to act in a certain way and uphold certain rights. The strength of a real democracy depends on certain fundamental rights and freedoms.
These rights and freedoms must be protected to make sure that a democracy will succeed. In many countries these rights are found in and protected by a constitution. The constitution also sets out the structures and other laws.
It is normally protected from amendment by the whim of a particular government by having a special majority required before any clause can be changed or through submitting any changes to voters through a referendum.
With an upsurge in the number of democracies holding free and fair elections and declaring themselves democratic states, some theorists have developed a set of minimum requirements.
Elections on their own do not make a country democratic. The following list of minimum requirements has been extracted by a study of democracies and by reading various theories of democracy.
It provides both a good overview of what democracy means and a standard against which to test whether or not a country is democratic.
1. Control over government decisions about policy constitutionally vested in elected representatives.
2. Elected representatives chosen in frequent and fair elections.
3. Elected representatives exercise their constitutional powers.
4. All adults have the right to vote in elections.
5. All adults have the right to run for public office.
6. Citizens have the right to express themselves on political matters, defined broadly, without the risk of state punishment.
7. Citizens have the right to seek out alternative sources of information, such as the news media, and such sources are protected by law.
8. Citizens have the right to form independent associations and organizations, including independent political parties and interest groups.
9. Government is autonomous and able to act independently from outside constraints (such as those imposed by alliances and blocs).
If any of those conditions is not present, political scientists argue that the country is not truly a democracy.
Educating citizens about the democracy in which they live means that educators will provide them with some of the tools to analyse their circumstances.
In some instances this may provoke a strong critique of the government, the powers it has, the way it functions, and whether or not it appears to be fulfilling promises made at election time.
Educators will want to prepare themselves for dealing with this critique in a constructive manner so that learners also learn how to deal with their criticisms in a democratic and peaceful way.
Democracy is more than a set of constitutional rules and procedures that determine how a government functions. In a democracy, 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.
1. Sovereignty of the people.
2. Government based upon consent of the government.
3. Majority rule.
4. Minority rights.
5. Guarantee of basic human rights.
6. Free and fair elections.
7. Equality before the law.
8. Due process of law.
9. Constitutional limits on government.
10. Social, economic, and political pluralism.
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