The concept of democracy is not new. Records of the existence of democratic system can be found as early as 6th century B.C.
Democracy is normally defined as a system in which all people of the society have an equal share of political power. US president Abraham Lincoln famously defined democracy as government of the people, for the people and by the people. There are certain basic elements that are considered essential for modern democracy
1) There must be freedom of opinion. This includes freedom for speech, political views, press and media
2) Every individual must have right to vote
3) All individuals should be free to practice their own religion
4) There should be separation of power between different institutions of state: government, parliament and Judiciary
5) The basic human rights of all individuals must be guaranteed
The word “democracy” is a Greek word. It is made up of two words: Demos meaning the “the people” and Kratien means “to rule”. Democracy thus means power of the people. The earliest democratic system can be traced back to 510 BC in the city of Athens. Some scholars though argue that roots of democratic system can be traced back to Mesopotamia and India as early as 6th century B.C.
The democratic system that emerged in Athens was based on direct representation instead of the representative democratic system that we have today. The direct representation system although is considered better than the system of representative democracy. In direct representation system every individual has fair chance of participation in the policies of government. This kind of democracy has two pre conditions.
1) The community should be small enough so that every individual has fair chance of participation in debate and voting
2) The citizens should have enough time to participate in politics. (In ancient times voters had enough leisure time because they had the slaves working for them and at later times they were compensated financially for participation).
The Athenian democratic system however had certain limitations. At the time the total Athenian population was 250,000 but only 50,000 qualified for vote. It was because that only those Athens citizen who were over the age of 18 and had an Athenian father were eligible for vote (Later in 451 citizens must have Athenian mother to be eligible to vote). The women, slaves and foreigners trading in Athens were not eligible for vote.
Solon and Cleisthenes can be regarded as one of the pioneers of the democratic system. Solon, an Athenian for the first time introduced the system of primitive democracy sensing the unrest in the public. He devised a system which focused on alleviating public suffering without removing the privileges of rich minority. Solon reforms improved the economic condition but it didn’t remove the aristocratic structure of government.
Hundred years later, Cleisthenes organized the population into ten tribes based on political organization rather than family loyalties. His objective was to control the aristocratic system that has concentrated the power in hands of few people.
The political structure of Roman republic in 510 BC comprised of consul, a senate and an assembly. The requirements for senate was that candidate must have 100,000 denari worth of land, be born of aristocratic family and should have held the public office at least once in his lifetime. The people of the Rome through the assemblies had right to give their views on capital punishment, declaration of war and peace and creation of alliances. The assembly didn’t have much power and it was legal only when summoned by magistrate.
The evolution of modern democratic system started in England in 1296.The first land mark in this direction was achieved when King James of England was stripped of his powers. The Magnacarta of 1215 in England further limited the king’s power. In year 1265 A.D the first parliament was elected. The parliamentary system evolved for next three hundred years and parliament had a strong voice in the affairs of government. In 1628 A.D king Charles1 dissolved the parliament of England. This resulted in civil war between monarch and parliamentary forces. The parliamentary forces won the war and soon afterwards the foundation of political parties was laid for the first time in history. In 1707 the parliament of England and Scotland together created Parliament of Great Britain.
With the birth of United States the idea of representative democracy flourished further. Soon after wards more and more nations encouraged democratic system. In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to give women right to vote followed by South Australia. In 19th century there were hardly few nations which had the democratic system. Today at the start of 21st century there are over 100 nations which have proper functioning democratic system and there is hardly any nation on earth where democratic system doesn’t exist at least in its rudimentary form.