Class 9 Chapter ‘What is Democracy? Why Democracy?’ Notes: The notes are based on the chapter ‘What is Democracy? Why Democracy?’ given in class 9 textbook in Political Science. So, enjoy the free resources here 👍😊. Click here for more Class 9 SST study materials.
I. Meaning and Features of Democracy
Democracy is a form of government in which the rulers are elected by the people.
The principles of democracy are listed as following, along with examples of what happens when these principles are broken.
Major decisions are taken by elected leaders
In Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf:
- Led a military coup in October 1999, overthrew the democratically elected government and declared himself the ‘Chief Executive’ of the country.
- Changed his designation to the President of the country.
- Held a referendum that granted him a five-year extension of term.
- Passed the ‘Legal Framework Order’ which made many unwanted amendments to the Constitution.
- Put final power in the hands of military officers and General Musharraf himself, none of whom were elected by the people.
Free and fair electoral competition
Case of China
- Every five years, China holds elections to elect the country’s parliament, the Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui (National People’s Congress).
- The National People’s Congress appoints the country’s President.
- The candidates contesting elections for the Parliament have to necessarily be members of the Chinese Communist Party or the eight smaller parties allied to it.
- The Communist Party always forms the government.
Case of Mexico
- Since its independence in 1930, Mexico has held presidential elections every six years, and the country has never been under military rule or dictatorship.
- However, until 2000, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of Mexico won every election.
- The PRI used the following dirty tactics to win elections:
- All government employees were required to attend PRI party meetings.
- Government-school teachers used to coerce parents into voting for the PRI.
- The media often overlooked these unethical activities.
- This shows that it is not enough to hold elections unless the elections provide genuine choice between political options.
One person, one vote, one value
- The basic concept of political equality upholds democracy.
- Women in Saudi Arabia did not have the right to vote until 2015.
- Estonia’s citizenship laws were written so that members of the Russian minority could not obtain voting rights.
- Fiji’s electoral structure is set up so that an indigenous Fijian’s vote has more weight than an Indian-Fijian’s vote.
- In a democracy, each adult citizen must have one vote, and each vote must have one value.
Rule of law and respect for rights
- Since 1980, when Zimbabwe gained independence from white minority rule, Robert Mugabe, who led the freedom struggle with ZANU-PF, has ruled the country.
- Elections were held regularly and were always won by ZANU-PF. President Mugabe, although very popular, used unfair practices to win elections.
- Over the years, he harassed opposition leaders, declared public protests and demonstrations as illegal and made several changes in the Constitution.
- Government-controlled television and radio broadcast only the ruling party’s version of events.
- Independent newspapers that were critical of the government were threatened.
- Mugabe was finally forced out of office in 2017.
- This demonstrates how even popular leaders in a democracy can become undemocratic and autocratic.
If we want to judge a democracy, we must look at the elections and also consider what happens before and after the elections.
Characteristics of a democracy
One can differentiate between a good and a bad democracy through the following characteristics:
- A democratic government is one in which the rulers are chosen by the people.
- In a democracy, the people’s elected representatives make the final decisions regarding the country’s governmental affairs.
- Democracy requires free and fair elections in which those in power have a fair chance of losing.
- Each adult citizen must have one vote in a democracy, and each vote must have the same value.
- A democratic government operates within the bounds of the Constitution and the rights of its people.
II. Merits and Demerits of Democracy
Arguments against democracy
- In a democracy, leaders in power frequently change, resulting in instability.
- Democracy is all about political power and competition, which may lead to disregard for morals.
- In a democracy, many people must be consulted, which causes delays in decision making.
- Elected officials do not always know what is best for the people, which may lead to poor decisions.
- Since democracy is based on political competition, it encourages corruption.
- Ordinary people do not always know what is best for them, so they may make poor decisions.
Arguments for democracy: China’s example
- China’s famine of 1958 to 1961 claimed the lives of nearly 3 crore people.
- India was not much better than China at the time; however, it never faced as severe a famine.
- India’s democracy enabled it to respond to food security in a way that China’s government could not.
- If China too had a multi-party system, a strong opposition, and free press to criticise the government; fewer people would have died.
- This shows that: Democracy is a more accountable form of government.
Arguments for democracy: Decision-making process
- The democratic principles of representation and one person-one-vote and one-value led to everyone being involved in its process.
- Even if deliberations cause a delay in decision-making, involving a wide range of viewpoints prevents bad decisions.
- This shows that: Democracy improves the quality of decision-making.
Arguments for democracy: Method to deal with opposite viewpoints
- Conflicts are bound to occur in a diverse country like India. Democracy offers a platform for groups to debate.
- It helps in addressing issues and reaching a shared understanding to resolve conflicts.
- This shows that: Democracy provides a method to deal with differences and conflicts.
Arguments for democracy: Dignity to citizens
- Arguments for democracy: Dignity to citizens
- Democracy is built on the principle of political equality, which ensures that everybody is treated as an equal.
- This means that everybody, from the President to the poorest citizen, must be treated the same.
- This principle of democracy shows that: Democracy enhances the dignity of citizens.
Arguments for democracy: Correcting mistakes
- In any form of governance, bad decisions are bound to happen, but in a democracy, there is always a scope to correct mistakes.
- Either the bad decisions are changed, or the decision-maker is changed.
- This feature of democracy helps the country to grow and develop and shows that: Democracy allows us to correct our mistakes.
III. Broader Meaning of Democracy
Democracy in a representative form
- Understanding democracy as a type of government aids in identifying a clear set of minimum features that a democracy must have.
- The most popular type of democracy in the world today is representative democracy.
- People cannot directly take part in all the decision-making processes because:
- Time: Not all can spend time actively or passively participating in all decision-making processes in politics.
- Desire: Not everybody wants to join the political system and participate in all decision-making processes.
- Skills: Not everyone who is involved has the necessary decision-making skill.
- So, all people do not rule in democratic countries; rather, decisions are made on behalf of all people by their elected representatives.
- However, if the community is small, there might be other options for democratic decision-making.
- The people could sit down and make decisions together as in Gram Sabhas.
Democracy in a broader sense
- The widely used word “democracy” refers to more than just a form of government.
- Its wider definition has a significant impact on today’s world.
- The broader meaning of democracy includes giving citizens equal opportunities, resources, and including them in the country’s decision-making process.
- This broader meaning of democracy can be applied to all the spheres of life.
Role of citizens
- Citizens have an important role in a democracy compared to other forms of government.
- Democracy, unlike authoritarian regimes such as monarchy and dictatorship, is based on citizen participation.
- Citizens serve as democratic markers, where decisions are made depending on the assent or dissent of citizens.
- People voting, electing representatives, nominating candidates, replacing leaders who do not perform, and following electoral politics keep the political arena alive.
- Citizens keep society together by respecting differences and holding rulers answerable.
- Democracy as an ideal:
- Understanding democracy as an ideal helps us appreciate its value.
- Allows us to evaluate existing democracies and identify their weaknesses.
- Helps distinguish between a minimal democracy and a good democracy.
- Scope of democracy:
- Democracy can be applied to various spheres of life and take different forms.
- Decision-making in a democratic manner requires consultation on an equal basis.
- Most common form today is rule through people’s elected representatives.
- In smaller communities, direct decision-making among all individuals is possible, like in a Gram Sabha of a village.
- Imperfect nature of democracy:
- No country can be a perfect democracy; there are minimum conditions for democracy, but achieving ideal democracy requires continuous effort.
- Citizens’ engagement is crucial for a democracy to realize its democratic decision-making ideals.
- Difference from other forms of government:
- Democracy stands apart from other types of governance like monarchy, dictatorship, or one-party rule.
- Non-democratic governments discourage political participation, but democracy relies on active political involvement from all citizens.
- Focus of a study on democracy:
- A study of democracy must centre on democratic politics.
- It involves understanding the core institutional features of democracy as a form of government.
The ideals of democracy help examine the system, identify its weaknesses, work towards the betterment of people and appreciate what we have achieved.