Differences Between Direct and Indirect (Representative) Democracy

Differences Between direct and indirect (Representative) Democracy: Democracy which is gotten from the Greek word ‘demokratia’ is the form of government whereby the people have the power to delegate, deliberate and decide legislation (direct democracy or to choose the officials who would do so (representative democracy).  Abraham Lincoln propounded democracy as the “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Similarities of direct and participatory democracy
Similarities of direct and participatory democracy

The notion of democracy has been evolving over the years. This goes to show that the original form of democracy which was in practice was the direct democracy. However, today the most practiced form of democracy is the representative democracy, in this form of democracy, the people elect government officials and representatives to govern on their behalf an example is the Parliamentary or presidential democracy. Therefore, what is the meaning direct and representative democracy?

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Meaning of Direct Democracy

Direct democracy which is also known as pure democracy is the form of democracy whereby the electorates (voters) decide on the policy initiatives without legislative representatives as proxies. This form of democracy is different from the many democracies which have been established in the recent years, which one of them is representative democracy. The practice and theory of direct democracy and its participation as the common characteristic was the bedrock of the work of many politicians, theorists, philosophers, and the rest.

Difference Between Direct and Representative Democracy
Difference Between Direct and Representative Democracy

Also see: Advantages and Disadvantages of a Democratic system of government

Meaning of Representative Democracy

Representative democracy also known as an indirect democracy is the type of democracy whereby the elected leaders or persons represent a group of persons and this in contrast to direct democracy. Mostly all the modern Western-style democracies function under this type of representative democracy. An example is the United Kingdom, United States of America, France, etc.

what is the difference between a direct and indirect democracy
what is the difference between a direct and indirect democracy

Differences Between Direct Democracy and Representative Democracy

1. Representation: In a representative democracy, the people (electorates) elect the representatives who would make political decisions for them and pass the laws. The elected leaders or politicians go into power to represent the interest of their people. Meanwhile, in a direct democracy, the electorates (voters) decide on the policy initiatives without legislative representatives as proxies, this means that the people make all the political decisions there is to make and pass the law by themselves.

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2. Voting: The citizens of both a direct democracy and representative democracy could always vote in referendums, also, they could both remove public officials, but in direct democracy, the decisions of the people are always upheld. Meanwhile, in a representative democracy, when the people wish to vote out the representative, he may ignore their rights to vote him off and move on with his position.

3. Size: A direct democracy is a form of democracy which is suitable for only small communities or small countries. Meanwhile representative democracy is the form of democracy which is most suitable for large a country. This is because of the fact that everyone cannot be in power and it requires a reasonable amount of people to represent the entire population.

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4. Activism: In a direct democracy, the citizen of the country are most actively involved in their government as they have direct participation and involvement in the government, while in a representative form of democracy, the citizens mostly allow their representatives to make decisions for them while they sit aside exercising their own powers.

5. Appointment of officials: Under representative democracy, it provides a mechanism whereby the officials who were elected could appoint people and normal citizens to serve in certain roles and positions. An example of this is; the United States (US) president could appoint members of the cabinet with the approval of the congress.

In a situation whereby a new vice president is needed, the president could appoint another vice president instead of conducting another election for a new vice president. In a direct form of democracy, the people are not appointed for such delegated works.

6. Political Parties: In a representative democracy, there is an organized form of political parties. These parties are being registered and they would conduct an election within themselves known as primary election to select the candidate that would represent them in the main election. After the main election, the people could decide who would represent them amongst all these candidates. Meanwhile, in a direct democracy, there are no varieties of political parties as such is not needed.

Also see: Meaning and types of democracy

7. Political Accountability: Political accountability is the process whereby a politician makes a decision on behalf of the people and the people in return have the power to sanction or to reward the politician. In a representative democracy, the citizens (people) have the power to elect and delegate power to the elected official through the process of a periodic election in other for the elected representatives to represent and act on their best interest.

The citizens in a representative democracy could also rely on the rewards, or sanction to instill and persuade the elected representatives into working and not acting in a manner which is contrary to the people’s interest. In direct democracy, there isn’t much of political accountability as the people are the ones in power and are not persuaded to account to the people.

8. Universal Political Participation: Universal political participation is the voluntarily and free political activities which is been undertaken by a large group of people in other to influence public policy which could either be direct or by affecting a selected group of persons.

An example of such participation includes voting during elections, helping during political campaign, contacting officials, and donating money during campaign, etc. In a representative democracy it makes provision for everyone to be an active part of the political selection and activity of their political leaders, everyone is involved, while in direct democracy only a few set of people in government are involved.

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9. Transparency in Government: Transparency in government is a principle whereby the people who are affected by the administrative decisions of the government are allowed to the results and also the process which lead to such decisions.

A transparent government means that the appointed government act openly with the citizen’s knowledge of the decisions which they are making. In a representative democracy the elected representatives are always transparent with their dealings with the citizens meanwhile in a direct democracy, the concept of transparency is limited.

10. Rule of Law: Democracy is concerned with how the societies elect and select the people who will hold power while the rule of law is more concerned with how those political powers are being exercised. The meaning of rule of law is that every citizen is subject to the law and accountable under the law, this goes to include the law makers, legislatures, presidents, and all those in government position.

In a representative democracy, the rule of law applies effectively in this system, no elected representative is above the law, and there is also the rule of checks and balances. Meanwhile, in a direct democracy the concept of rule of law and checks and balances are not applicable.

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There are basic opinions about which form of democracy is the best, however the truth is that it depends on what the people want to practice especially a small group of people which direct democracy would be appropriate for. There is none which is better than the other, it all depend on the circumstances and the nature of the state.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. lowercase d

    Direct and representative forms of democracy are not mutually exclusive, and in fact seem to work best when combined, allowing for each to correct the potential excesses and weaknesses of the other. Many basic tools of direct democracy, such as ballot initiatives, are not limited in their exercise to small jurisdictions, but could theoretically be even global in scope. Here is a a very interesting movie about the history and possibilities of direct democracy in the United States from a few years back:

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