Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, October 23rd, 2017

Ensuring Democratic Rights

Peaceful nations must stand for the advance of democracy. No other system of government has done more to protect minorities, to secure the rights of labor, to raise the status of women, or to channel human energy to the pursuits of peace.” George Walker Bush.
The concept of democracy is often expressed in terms of “thin” and “thick” definitions. At its most fundamental or thin incarnation, democracy is synonymous with popular sovereignty or majority rule: in some forms, democracy can be exercised directly by the people; in large cities, it is by the people through their elected agents. Or in the memorable phrase of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Therefore, what we know as democracy in its ideal form generally also includes governance by rule of law and the protection of civil liberties, or liberal democracy. Though how these two basic components of democracy – electoral and liberal – are represented may differ, it is widely accepted that a truly democratic system of governance must comprise both. The extent to which it does so will determine its quality and durability. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, without liberal democracy, electoral democracy is “nothing more than mob rule where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49.”
People living in a democratic society must serve as the ultimate guardians of their own freedom and must forge their own path toward the ideals set forth in the preamble to the UNs’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”
Democracy rests upon the principles of majority rule and individual rights. Democracies guard against all-powerful central governments and decentralize government to regional and local levels, understanding that all levels of government must be as accessible and responsive to the people as possible.
Democracies understand that one of their prime functions is to protect such basic human rights as freedom of speech and religion; the right to equal protection under law; and the opportunity to organize and participate fully in political, economic and cultural life of society.
In a democratic society, citizens do not have only rights, but also the responsibility to participate in the political system that protects their rights and freedoms.
Moreover, democratic societies are committed to the values of tolerance, cooperation, and compromise. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.”
It worth mentioning that majority rule, by itself, is not automatically democratic. For example, no one would call a system fair or just that permitted 51% of the population to oppress the remaining 49% in the name of the majority. In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities and dissenters – whether ethnic, religious, or simply the losers in political debate. The rights of minorities do not depend upon the good will of the majority and cannot be eliminated by majority vote. In other words, the rights of minorities are protected because democratic laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens.
The relationship of citizen and state is fundamental to democracy. Thomas Jefferson says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
More specifically, in democratic system, these fundamental or inalienable rights include freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion and conscience, freedom of assembly, and the right to equal protection before the law. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the rights that citizens enjoy in a democracy, but it does constitute a set of the irreducible core rights that any democratic government worthy of the name must uphold. Since they exist independently of government, in Jefferson’s view, these rights cannot be legislated away nor should they be subject to the whim of an electoral majority.
Freedom of speech and expression, especially about political and social issues, is the lifeblood of democracy. This freedom is fundamental right but cannot be sued to incite to violence.
Democratic government, which is elected by and accountable to its citizens, protects individual rights so that citizens in a democracy can undertake their civic obligations and responsibilities, thereby strengthening the society as a whole.
Free and fair elections are essential in assuring the consent of the governed, which is the bedrock of democratic politics. Elections serve as the principal mechanism for translating that consent into governmental authority.

Democratic elections are competitive. Opposition parties and candidates must enjoy the freedom of speech, assembly and movement necessary to voice their criticisms of the government openly and to bring alternative policies and candidates to the voters. Simply permitting the opposition access to the ballot is not enough. The party in power may enjoy the advantages of incumbency, but the rules and conduct of the election contest must be fair.