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Democracy; derived from the ancient Greek words demos, meaning people, and kratos, meaning power or rule. In modern times it is rare for us to consider democracy as a method of ruling the masses, but in fact many until the late 19th century didn’t consider democracy, in contrast to oligarchies and monarchies, a positive force.
Individuals engage with democracy in many different ways, however numerous academics have sought to highlight common trends that are particularly evident in Western democracies such as Australia, the United States or Canada. It’s important to note that democracy can take on a number of different forms. Overwhelmingly, the most prevalent type of democracy is representative democracy, which is what we’ll be focussing our analysis on in the context of engagement.
Representative democracy involves the election of official agents (commonly known as politicians) by citizens to represent their views when shaping the laws to be implemented by Government (the sovereign collective of those representatives). A country that employs representative democracy will divide the country into an equal number of sections (usually based on population) which will then be responsible for electing one or more official representatives.
However, within this type of representative democratic society, democracy can manifest itself in a number of different ways and relies on a number of different mechanisms and institutions in order to function efficiently and effectively.
For example, we can speak of Parliamentary democracy, which is the system of Government that determines how politicians interact, debate and pass legislation (legislature) and how they’re organised (eg; executive branch, ministries etc). Australia’s Parliamentary democracy models itself on Westminster system.
Democracy is also most effective in countries with a “functioning legal system, as well as a judiciary that operates in an optimal balance of power with a legislature and executive branches” (Dahlgren, 2009, p. 12).
Electoral democracy is another manifestation that concerns itself with the rules and procedures surrounding elections (ie; voting) and electorates (ie; geographical divisions). Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom all have election commissions responsible for maintaining electoral democracy that are independent of Government and its executive branches.
- Elections Canada – http://www.elections.ca
- Electoral Commission – http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk
- Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) – http://www.aec.gov.au
Each of the three commissions listed above maintain an active presence on various social media platforms.
John Keane contends that a dramatic rise in the number of these public and private institutions during the last two decades is evidence of a shift “into a new historical form of post-representative democracy”. Kean labels this new movement “monitory democracy”, “the most complex form of democracy yet” (Keane, 2009, p. 1-2).
Public and private think tanks, commissions against corruption, the media and even individual citizens are all beginning to have a measurable impact on how democracy operates to keep “politicians, parties and elected governments permanently on their toes … question their authority and force them to change their agendas”. Ultimately, “democracy is coming to mean more than elections” (Keane, 2009, p. 2).
In addition to these democratic developments are the changes in how formal electoral politics is conducted, largely as a result of a range of new technologies.
Nigel Thrift explores practices such as national polls, audience research groups, telephone polling, daily tracking polls, one-on-one constituent sessions and in recent years the use of the Internet; social media, email, online voter registration and campaign websites to collect data (Thrift, 2008). All of these tools can be used by both politicians and citizens to gauge and engage with democracy.