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How often have we all at sometime expressed the notion that we live in a democracy, without ever stopping to consider what that actually means. Well, by definition, it’s a system of government by the whole population or eligible members of a state. The word democracy is often prefixed with the qualifier, as in parliamentary or constitutional, to denote the form of its implementation. The crux of its implementation is focused on an organisation, group or entity being controlled by the majority of its members.

We only have to look back to the 2016 US election to see that by strict definition the majority of members, in this case a country, didn’t win the day. Contrary to the US electoral votes (i.e. Trump @ 304 and Clinton @ 227) the person who took executive power actually lost the popular vote. 

So by extension, to live in a democratic state it’s not about who has the majority of votes at the ballot box but rather the particular manner in which state power is functionally implemented after the fact. In the case of the US the expression of democracy is, as you would expect from the above description, not applicable at the ballot box but upstream post election in the legislature and in the judiciary (i.e. SCOTUS). In each of these bodies of power the members vote in a democratic manner, one member one vote, with the majority of votes carrying the day.

We can see that in implementation it’s not the voting that makes a country democratic as this is a means to an end. To live in a democracy the decision making state machinery must exercises power by majority representative government.

Of the most democratic country worldwide according to the 2021 democracy index (https://www.statista.com/statistics/679796/democracy-index-most-democratic-countries/) Norway is at the top and the US is 4th from bottom. I also note that the Nordic countries generally fair very well and the UK is 13th from the bottom of this list. It seems that we in the UK and US should use the word democracy more sparingly when promoting our wonderful forms of government. 

If we were to seek a more representative form of democracy, which may not be entirely practical, then we would need to conflate majority rule expressed at the ballot box with representative democratic government. Only then would we have a democratic nirvana. So use the word democracy sparingly and be aware of its limitations. It’s an ideal that we have only partially mastered. Maybe we can learn something from countries like Taiwan, Uruguay and South Korea as these appear higher up the democracy index. It’s never too late to drop the National collective ego for a bit, to learn from other countries, who we don’t necessarily associate with having better, more democratic, forms of government.

Democracy as it stands presently, is for the people not of the people, which is a subtle distinction worth remembering as we have much to learn and gain in this area.