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Principles of Democracy

If a friend were to ask you to define democracy, you could probably muster up a fairly good response, talking about having elections where the people vote and choose those they want to be in government. And that would be a perfectly fine answer. But then your friend, who’s in quite a curious mood, asks where the line is – what needs to be there to make it a democracy,
without which it’s something else?

In fact, there are certain elements that must exist in order for a democracy to be a democracy. From free and fair elections to human rights to basic values like equality and accountability, here are certain things that must be present in order to have a strong and stable democracy.

Public participation: People have a right and a duty to participate in government and in civil society. Public participation includes standing for elections, voting in elections, becoming informed, holding and attending community meetings, joining civil and/or political organizations, paying taxes, protesting and petitioning.

Equality: All people should be treated equally and without discrimination and be given equal
opportunities.

Tolerance: While the party representing the majority of people runs government, in a democracy the rights of opposition or minority groups are also protected. Government serves all the people equally. Everyone should be allowed to express their opinions and join the political, religious or civil groups of their choice.

Accountability: Government must be accountable to the people for its actions, including the laws that are passed and how these laws are implemented. Our taxes are used for government spending and all budgets and financial statements should be presented to parliament and be available to the public.

Transparency: Government must be open to the public about its actions. It must allow the public to give input before new laws are passed.
Regular, free and fair elections: Elections must happen in a free and fair way, without intimidation, corruption or threats to the public before or during the election. Elections should also be held regularly. For South Africa, these occur every five years.

Accepting the results of elections: When a political party loses an election, the party and its
supporters must accept this result.

Economic freedom: People in a democracy should be allowed to have some kind of private ownership of property and business, they should be allowed to choose their own type of work and join labour unions.

Controlling and preventing the abuse of power: There should be ways to prevent government officials from abusing their powers. The courts should be independent and they should have the power to:

 Act against government officials or bodies that commit an illegal or corrupt act.
 Allow for public participation and elections
 Check police abuse of power
 Intervene where corruption is exposed

Human rights: The human rights of individuals and groups are enshrined and protected in the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights includes a list of rights and freedoms that are guaranteed to all people in the country. All rights and freedoms need to be protected to prevent these from being violated. Section 7 of the Constitution defines what the Bill of Rights is:

 The Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
 The state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights
 The rights in the Bill of Rights are subject to the limitations contained or referred to in
section 36, or elsewhere in the Bill

Multi-party system: More than one political party must be allowed to participate in elections and play a role in government. At the local government level, independent ward candidates are also provided for.

Rule of law: The rule of law means laws rule above all else and that no one is above the law, including the parliament or president of the country. Everyone must obey the law and be held accountable if they break the law. The law must also be equally, fairly and consistently enforced. Laws are the rules made on our behalf by parliament. The judiciary act as referees and enforce the rule of law. They may judge any action by government, citizens, organizations or companies and will use the Constitution and laws to decide whether the action was legal or illegal.

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