Democratic governance is a system that empowers citizens to participate in decision-making processes and ensures that power is distributed among different levels of government. It allows people to have a say in shaping policies and laws that affect their lives.
A study by Pew Research Centre indicates that as of the end of 2017, 96 out of 167 countries were democracies of some kind, and only 21 were autocracies. Nearly 50 other countries exhibited styles of both democracy and autocracy. Broadly speaking, the share of democracies among the world’s governments has been on an upward trend since the mid-1970s and now sits just shy of its post-World War II record.
Here, we explore the various levels of democratic governance and how it works in practice.
At the grassroots level, local governments play a vital role in democratic governance, from waste management, public transportation, to zoning regulations. Local elections provide an opportunity for citizens to choose representatives who can advocate for their needs and interests. This is the most important level because it deals directly with the development of the people. Unfortunately, in most countries especially in developing economies, there’s so much focus on the national level – the president.
The regional or in some cases, state-level of democratic governance focuses on broader geographical areas, such as states, provinces, or territories. Regional governments have the authority to implement policies related to education, healthcare, and transportation infrastructure. They act as a bridge between local and national governments, ensuring that regional interests are represented.
National governments, like parliaments or congresses, are responsible for making decisions on a wide range of issues that impact the entire country. They create laws, establish economic policies, and represent the nation on the international stage. Citizens exercise their democratic rights by electing representatives who form the government and make decisions on their behalf.
So, how does this practice work across all levels?
- Elections: Citizens have the opportunity to vote for their representatives at various levels – leaders who will make decisions on their behalf and work towards their best interests.
- Separation of Powers: This division includes the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. This separation ensures a system of checks and balances, preventing any one branch from becoming too powerful.
- The Legislative branch creates laws.
- The Executive branch implements the laws.
- The Judicial branch interprets and applies the laws.
- Rule of Law: Democratic governance upholds the principle of the rule of law. This means that all individuals, including government officials, are subject to the same laws and are accountable for their actions.
- Citizen Participation: Beyond elections, citizens have the right to express their opinions, engage in public debates, join advocacy groups to propose ideas, and influence policy decisions through peaceful means.
- Freedom of Expression: Citizens have the right to express their opinions, criticise the government, and engage in open discussions without fear of reprisal.
- Accountability and Transparency: Elected officials are accountable to the people who elected them. They are expected to act in the public’s best interest, and their decisions should be transparent and open to scrutiny.
Although, democracy has been touted by many as the most preferred form of governance, embracing the values and engaging in the democratic process, can cause citizens to collectively shape a better future for their communities and nations.
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