democracy n.
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Democracy PowerPoint Presentation


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  1. Democracy What is democracy? Origins Participation Competition Liberty

  2. What is Democracy? • Tends to have an inherently positive connotation • Result is that we use term subjectively • US, Soviet Union both saw themselves as democratic!

  3. Defining Democracy • Greek: demos—the common people; kratia--power • Definition: political power, direct or indirect, through participation, competition, and liberty • Subjective definition—favors individual freedom over collective equality • Term liberal democracy used to note this

  4. Origins of Democracy • Athenian democracy: direct participation, people functioned as the state and government • Republicanism: Indirect participation, exercised on behalf of people • Neither democratic in modern form—many or most excluded from participation • But in both cases, the notion of larger group control over the levers of political power

  5. England and Modern Democracy • Seen as birthplace of modern democratic institutions • 1215 Magna Carta: Rights of King John are curbed by lower aristocracy • Notion of the rule of law, that laws apply to all irrespective of political position • Sets in motion notion of legal supremacy over people and political leaders

  6. Why Democracy in England? • Related to war-making and state-making? • Great Britain as island—defense on the cheap • Less need for large standing army • Taxes lower • State weaker, less need for repression of people (to collect taxes, wage war) • Power remains more decentralized, can be checked by lower groups and classes

  7. Participation: Voting and Elections • Central to liberal democracy • Suffrage: right to vote • Age, ethnicity/race, income? • Obligatory, voluntary? • Electoral systems: How do we count votes? How do we waste votes? • Single Member District (SMD) • Proportional Representation (PR)

  8. Single Member District: Mechanics • Electoral system used in minorty of democratic countries, including US, Canada, Great Britain • Constituencies as single-member districts: only one seat being contested per district • Numerous candidates compete; voters cast ballots for one individual • Candidate with plurality (largest share) wins seat. “First past the post” • May not be a majority! Majority of votes could be “wasted”—not be cast for the winner!

  9. Single Member District: Effects • Large number of votes may be wasted • Share of seats may not reflect the share of votes won • Small parties tend to do badly, unable to gain first place in single member districts • Result is a two party system—people unwilling to vote for small parties • One alternative is to have two rounds or other mechanisms to ensure majority

  10. Proportional Representation: Mechanics • System used by majority of liberal democracies • Attempts to make proportion of votes reflect number of seats won in the legislature • Voters cast vote for a party (not a candidate), that compete in multimember districts • Votes are tallied and seats divided by the percentage gained by each party

  11. Proportional Representation: Effects • Fewer votes wasted—small parties can win seats • Elections not centered on individuals, as in SMD • Parties control who will fill seats for their party, increasing party discipline • Many more parties in legislature—may lead to coalition government (no one party has majority of seats)

  12. Which is the More Democratic System? • Attractions of SMD? • Drawbacks? • Attractions of PR? • Drawbacks? • Which is more democratic? Participation? Efficiency?

  13. Best of Both Worlds? • Some countries use both SMD and PR: Germany, Japan, Mexico, others • Some seats in legislature elected by one system and some by the other • Voters get a dual ballot—cast vote for a single member district and for a party • Can split your vote between two parties, save PR vote for smaller party, SMD for larger one!

  14. Referendum and Initiative • National ballot on an issue • Referendum: top-down, binding on government • Initiative: bottom-up, binding on government • Countries vary greatly in how these are used • US and Canada: no constitutional provision • Switzerland: very common

  15. Competition: Political Parties Why have political parties at all? • Bring together diverse groups people and ideas • Helps establish majority rule, prevents fragmentation • But also heterogeneous—prevents tyranny of the majority • Way to hold politicians accountable • Articulates ideology that can be evaluated

  16. Separation of Powers • Democracies may diffuse power by giving branches the ability to check each other • May slow politics as a result, preventing hasty decision-making • These separate spheres of power must be institutionalized—written in constitution, accepted as legitimate

  17. Executives: Heads of State and Government • Executives carry out the laws and policies of a state • Leads the country • Sets the national agenda • Two different roles here: • Head of state • Head of government • Reigning versus ruling • May be separate or combined

  18. Heads of Government • In charge of the everyday tasks of running the state, especially in making policy • In many countries, this takes the form of a prime minister • Elected by the legislature • Usually head of the largest party in legislatures • Serves at their pleasure—can be removed by a vote of no-confidence by the legislature • May be weaker or stronger, depending on head of state

  19. Heads of State • The institution in charge with symbolizing nation at home and abroad • May be a president or a monarch • Directly elected, indirectly elected by legislature, or hereditary (monarchy) • May be weaker or stronger, depending on head of government

  20. Parliamentary System • Prime minister dominates as head of government • Removed by national elections or vote of no confidence in legislature • Head of state either a monarch or a president • Head of state largely ceremonial—little real power (though may be indirectly or directly elected)

  21. Presidential System • Directly elected president • President serves as both head of state and government—no prime minister • Powerful, and cannot be removed other than by impeachment or election

  22. Semipresidential System • Combination of two systems • Prime minister who is charged with domestic policy • Directly elected president, who sets broader agenda and foreign relations, national security

  23. Benefits of Each? • Benefits and downsides of a parliamentary system? • Of a presidential system? • Semipresidentialism? • Remember—this completely unconnected from the kind of electoral system used for legislature • Could have president with PR to elect legislature

  24. Legislatures: Bicameral or Unicameral? • Unicameralism: • Single chamber • Bicamerialism: • Goes back to Britain, notion of different chambers for different classes • Commonly used under federalism: one house to represent local communities • And/or used to slow down democratic process (separation of powers).

  25. Constitutional Courts • Grown in importance over time • Different forms of power: judicial review • Concrete Review • Ability to rule on constitutional issues rising from cases brought before court • Abstract Review • Ability to rule on constitutional issues without the need of a court case • Some countries have only abstract, some only concrete, some both

  26. Civil Rights and Civil Liberties • Substance of democracy itself • Civil rights: promotion of equality • Civil liberties: promotion of freedom • Variation in range of civil rights and liberties • Free speech, movement • Privacy, religion • Healthcare? Education? Work? • What rights should democracy guarantee?

  27. Civil Society • Public, civic—people checking the power of the state • Civil society as organized life outside of the state • Diverse fabric of organizations created by people to help define and advance own interests. Fuel of democratic pluralism • Where does civil society come from? Unclear