Themes of Democracy
1. Citizens’ Rights
What Rights Do Citizens Have in A Democracy?
Everyone Has Basic Human Rights that the State Cannot Take Away
In a democracy, every citizen has certain basic rights that the state cannot
take away from them. These rights are internationally recognized and guaranteed.
Everyone has the right to have their own beliefs, including their religious
beliefs, and to say and write what they think. Everyone has the right to seek
different sources of information and ideas. Everyone has the right to associate
with other people, and to form and join organizations of their own choice,
including trade unions. Everyone has the right to assemble and to protest
government actions. However, citizens have an obligation to exercise these
rights peacefully, with respect for the law and for the rights of others.
What is the Benefit of a Federal or Decentralized Government?
Federalism Will Benefit All the People of Iraq by Distributing Power Fairly
throughout the Country.
More and more democracies are adopting federalism, or some form of
decentralization. According to this principle, each government function should
be performed by the lowest level of government that is capable of performing
that function effectively. Only the national government can print currency,
conduct foreign policy, manage trade and borders, and provide for the nation’s
defense. However, local matters, such as community services, are best managed by
local or provincial government. Local authorities are better able to know and
respond to the immediate needs and interests of their citizens. Decentralization
promotes national unity by distributing power and resources more fairly around
the country, bringing government closer to the people, and allowing local
communities some control over their own affairs. Democracy is more stable when
power is devolved along geographic lines and not according to ethnic or
3. Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence
Why Does Democracy Require the Separation of Powers?
If Political Power is to be Limited and Responsible, the Legislature and
Judiciary Must Be Independent of the Executive
In a democracy, the exercise of political power must respect the law, the
constitution, and the will of the people, through the decisions of their
[elected] legislative representatives. This requires that power be separated so
that the head of government and his ministers do not have the power to make the
law or to interfere in court cases. In a democracy, the executive branch
implements policies and programs, administers the national budget, and conducts
national affairs. It may also propose laws, but only the parliament may enact
legislation, including the budget. Only the courts can decide the guilt or
innocence of individuals charged with a crime, and only the higher courts can
determine whether a law or a government action or policy is constitutional.
4. Executive Powers
How is Executive Power Structured in a Democracy?
Government may be headed by either a president or a prime minister. Many
democracies now divide executive powers between the two offices.
In presidential democracies, the government is headed by a directly elected
president, who is also the ceremonial head of state. In parliamentary
democracies, the government is headed by a prime minister and his cabinet, who
must enjoy the confidence of parliament, while a president or king acts as the
ceremonial head of state. Many newer democracies have chosen an intermediate
system. The prime minister and his cabinet are responsible for the day-to-day
administration of government through the ministries. But the presidency holds
the position of head of state, and has the power to nominate the prime minister,
to veto legislation, and to make or approve certain judicial and governmental
appointments. By partially dividing executive authority, this intermediate
system may help prevent the abuse of power.
5. What is Democracy?
Government authority flows from the people and is based upon their consent.
Democracy is a system of government in which a country’s political leaders are
chosen by the people in regular, free, and fair elections. In a democracy,
people have a choice between different candidates and parties who want the power
to govern. The people can criticize and replace their elected leaders and
representatives if they do not perform well. The people are sovereign—they are
the highest authority—and government is based on the will of the people. Elected
representatives at the national and local levels must listen to the people and
be responsive to their needs.
6. The Global Spread of Democracy
How Widespread is Democracy in the World?
Today most countries in the world are democracies. Democracy is the only
form of government that people around the world view as legitimate.
Thirty years ago, only a quarter of the states of the world were democracies.
Since then, democracy has rapidly expanded throughout the world. Today 120
countries—three in every five countries—choose their leaders in free and fair,
multiparty elections. And many others are struggling to achieve democracy.
People of every religious faith—Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism,
Judaism, and others—aspire to live in free and democratic societies. Democracy
is the only form of government in the world that is widely viewed as morally
legitimate. It is the only form of government that is capable of fully
satisfying international covenants on civil and political rights.
What is the Role of the Citizen in a Democracy?
Citizens participate in public affairs, with respect for different points of
The key role of citizens in a democracy is participation. This takes many forms.
Citizens have an obligation to become informed about public issues, to monitor
the conduct of their leaders and representatives, and to express their own
opinions. Participation also involves voting in elections, debating issues,
attending community meetings, becoming involved in private, voluntary
organizationsand membership civic meetings, and even
protesting. However, political participation in a democracy must be peaceful,
respectful of the law, and tolerant of the different views of other groups and
8. What is the Rule of Law?
Laws and Procedures Apply Fairly and Equally to All Citizens
Democracy is a system of rule by laws, not individuals. In a democracy, the rule
of law protects the rights of citizens, maintains order, and limits the power of
government. All citizens are equal under the law. No one may be discriminated
against on the basis of their race, religion, ethnic group, or gender. No one
may be arrested, imprisoned, or exiled arbitrarily. No one may be denied their
freedom without a fair and public hearing by an impartial court. No one may be
taxed or prosecuted except by a law established in advance. No one is above the
law, not even a king or an elected president. The law is fairly, impartially,
and consistently enforced, by courts that are independent of the other branches
9. Due Process of Law
What Rights do Citizens Have in the Criminal Justice System?
In a democracy, anyone accused of a crime has the right to a fair, speedy, and
Just because someone is accused of a crime does not mean that he loses his
rights. Anyone arrested is presumed innocent until proven guilty. A person’s
guilt must be proved in a court of law, through a fair, speedy, and public
trial. In a democracy, a person accused of a crime has the right to know the
charges against him, to remain silent, to have legal representation, to
participate in his defense, and to question witnesses for the prosecution. No
person who is acquitted of a crime may be tried again on that charge. No
one—under any circumstance—may ever be subjected to torture, or to cruel and
inhuman treatment. No one may be imprisoned or have their property seized
without legal justification.