The 14 Basic Characteristics of Any Democracy

Democracy is one form of government based on citizen participation. It promotes human rights, freedom of expression and equal opportunities, and seeks justice and the well-being of society. Therefore, democratic governments meet certain characteristics that we will see below.

1. Rule of law and common law

All democratic government is limited by the rule of law, a constitution and common law. This legal framework is based on the citizen participationarticulated based on the search for the common good and respect for political, civil and human rights.

2. Political participation of citizens

The fundamental principle of democracy is the participation of citizens in the political decisions of the country. For this, there are various mechanisms, such as:

  • Exercise of the vote (suffrage).
  • Affiliation to political parties.
  • Affiliation to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foundations, civil associations or movements.
  • Request for accountability to the authorities.
  • Participation in authorized public demonstrations.

3. Universal and secret suffrage, periodic and free

The legitimacy of democratic governments rests on the popular vote. For this reason, elections are held periodically and freely, that is, without coercion by the State. For this reason, the vote is secret, since this guarantees that individuals can exercise it without fear of reprisals. In addition, in democracy the vote is universal. This means that all citizens of legal age have the right to vote, regardless of race, creed, or political affiliation.

4. Concurrence of political parties of various tendencies

The right to political participation is also expressed in the concurrence of various political parties of different tendencies. These can be from the right or from the left, as long as their values ​​and government programs are governed by the democratic rule of law.

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5. Autonomy of public powers

In a democracy, the powers are divided (executive, legislative and judicial) and are autonomous with respect to the others. This means that each power is restricted to its powers by law, and cannot interfere in the powers of the other powers.

6. Accountability

Unlike dictatorships and other forms of authoritarian regimes, in democracy authorities are required by law to be accountable citizens, either on the administration and use of economic resources, or on the application of public policies in any area. It is, therefore, a principle of institutional responsibility.

7. Self-determination

Within modern democracy, there are greater possibilities for people to exercise self-determination, that is, to live according to the norms and criteria that they establish for their own lives, as long as this does not harm others. Therefore, self-determination also entails a degree of civic responsibility.

8. Citizen responsibility

In any democracy, citizens have responsibility for public order through different mechanisms. Citizens are responsible for complying with the law, participating politically, meeting their personal obligations, defending their interests, respecting the rights of others, and compensating for damages to third parties.

9. Freedom of expression

In any democracy, the subjects are free to express their ideas, values ​​and beliefs, as long as these do not threaten the common good or undermine the rights of others.

10. Freedom of information

Freedom of information is consubstantial with democracy. It involves both the right to communicate information and the right to receive it. For this reason, the media must be independent of State control, even when they must be subject to the limits of social responsibility that the law imposes.

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11. Debate and negotiation for conflict resolution

Being committed to peace and human rights, democracies turn to debate and negotiation as more coherent strategies for conflict resolution.

By virtue of this, democratic governments must avoid the use of violent State forces against citizens. Also, as a general rule they do not declare war on other democratic states.

12. Promotion of human development

Of all the known forms of government, democracy is the one that best promotes human development, understanding by this the development of the full potential of the subjects. This is possible thanks to the exercise of freedom and rights that healthy democracies guarantee.

13. Trend towards decentralization of power

Democracy tends to decentralize power. This means that in democracy government powers are distributed among the different departments and levels of public administration. For example, governorates, mayors and prefectures. In this way, not only is power distributed more equitably and the response to needs is speeded up, but it also makes access easier for citizens.

14. Limitation of power

A fundamental feature of democracy is its commitment to limit the abuse of power. This is possible thanks to the articulation of the political participation of citizens, the division of powers, autonomy and decentralization.

See also:

  • What is democracy?.
  • 7 fundamental values ​​of a democracy.
  • Rule of law.