Friday, August 3, 2007

The Essence of Democracy

(Excerpts from a talk by Sadek Sulaiman Aug. 1996)

Democracy's core principle is equality, the affirmation that all people are equal. Any discrimination among people on the basis of race, gender, religion, or lineage is inherently invalid. All people are endowed with inalienable human rights. To secure these rights, governments derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed.
The chief characteristics of the democratic system are:
1. Freedom of speech, whereby citizens are able openly to state their views on public issues without impediment or fear, regardless of whether such views are critical or supportive of the government. In the democratic system, it is important for officials to know how the people feel about policies they adopt and decisions they make.
2. Free elections in which citizens regularly, in accordance with precise and constitutionally protected procedures, elect people they entrust with the affairs of governance. Elections legitimize all levels of representation, from the city council to the presidency of the state.
3. Majority rule and minority rights: In the democratic system, decisions are made by the majority, based on the general conviction that the judgment of the majority is more likely to be right than that of the minority. But majority rule does not give a free hand to the majority to do as it wants. Embedded in the democratic principle is the commitment that certain fundamental citizens' rights shall not be violated – for example, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the free exercise of religion.
4. Political parties in the democratic system play an important role. By means of political parties, people freely associate on the basis of their convictions about how to achieve a fulfilling life for themselves, their family, and their posterity.
5. Separation between the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary, whereby constitutional checks and balances among these three branches of government prevent potential exploitative practices.
6. Constitutional authority is the supreme authority on the validity of any statutory law or executive directive. Constitutional authority means supremacy of the rule of law, not the rule of individuals, in the resolution of any public matter.
7. Freedom of action for individuals and groups, provided they do not infringe on the common good. From this derives the freedom to own property, the freedom to work, the freedom to pursue personal goals, and the freedom to form various associations and corporations.

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