The principle of representation has become a key element in modern democracy. It is the principle of elected individuals representing the people, as opposed to autocracy and direct democracy. The representatives form an independent ruling body charged with the responsibility of acting im the people’s interest, but not as their proxy representatives nor necessarily always according to their wishes, but with enough authority to exercise swift and resolute initiative in the face of changing circumstances. These representatives are usually elected in free and fair multi-party elections. They are elected by, and responsible to, particular subset of the total electorate. This is called his or her constituency. In this post, we shall look at elements of representative democracy, some basic features that makes it opposed to autocracy and direct form of democracy and why it is the modern form of government. Emphasis would be made on the principle of the rule of law as a major characteristics of representative democracy and the need for adequate safeguards of the minorities in a democratic system.
Meaning of Representative Democracy
Representative democracy is a form of government founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the people, as opposed to autocracy and direct democracy. It involves the selection of government officials by people being represented. It involves election of the representatives with the majority or a plurality of the votes. Representative may be elected or become diplomatic representatives by a particular district (constituency), or represent the entire electorate proportionally (proportional system), with some using a combination of the two. Some representative democracies also incorporate elements of direct democracy, such as referendums. One major element of representative democracy is that while the representatives are elected by the people, to act in people’s interest, they (people) retain the freedom to exercise their own judgement as how best to do so.
CHARACTERISTICS OF REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY
(I) Popular sovereignty: In a representative democracy, popular sovereignty resides in the people. Although they elect the representatives to act on their interest, the people still retain the freedom to exercise their own judgment as to how best to do so.
(ii) Supremacy of the Constitution: There is always a constitution in a country or state where representative democracy is practiced. This guides the operation of government and curtail the powers of the representatives. It states the fundamental rights and freedom of the citizens and terms of office of elected officials among others.
(iii) Periodic Elections: There is the existence of elections at regular intervals as stipulated by the constitution. The elections are conducted for peaceful hand over from one government to the other after the expiration of their tenure. This election must be free and fair, devoid of any violation of the electoral procedures.
(iv) Electoral Body: For an acceptable election to be conducted, there must be an independent and unbiased electoral body comprising of credible professionals who will coordinate the activities of the political parties and the Democratic process in general.
(v) An independent Judiciary: There is always an independent judicial organ of government which must have power to declare legislative acts unconstitutional when they go beyond their power, protect individual liberty and punish offenders of the law.
(vi) Supremacy of the Rule of law: The rule of law is always guaranteed in a reprentative democracy.This implies that no person is above the law,no person can be punished by the state except for a breach of the law, and that no one can be convited of breaching the law exception the manner set forth by the law itself.
(vii) Multi-party System: In a representative democracy, representatives are elected in multi-party election.There exist many political parties under which people contest for political position and this enables the citizens to choose among alternative, candidates and programs.
(viii) The opinion of the people is always very strong in a representative democracy: The opinion of the people matters a lot when governments want to take a decision on a particular policy program.
(x) Respect for fundamental Human Rights: In a democratic country,the right of the citizens is up held as written in the constitution. If any of these rights are abused, the individual has the right to seek redress in the court.
(xi) Majority Rule: This means that the wishes of the majority over weigh that of the minority.
(xiii) It gives room for freedom of expression and of the press: This is so because people can comment freely and make constructive criticisms.