What Are the Main Characteristics of Democracies?

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Characteristics of democracy are inclusion of the public in the process of governmental elections, majority rule, establishment of basic human rights and free and fair elections. Democratic governments exist around the world and fall into the two categories of direct and representative. Direct democratic governments allow citizens of legal voting age to establish rules and laws, while representative democracies use elected officials for rule-making.

Of the two types of democratic government, representative democracies occur most frequently. While some countries feature one type of democratic government, others contain elements of both. In the United States, for instance, elected officials make the majority of decisions affecting Americans. Individual states, however, have provisions allowing for the recall of elected officials and for amending laws.

Democratic governments operate on the provision of majority rule, which states that laws enter into effect when approved by a large percentage of the population. Laws, however, protect the rights and freedoms of all citizens, including minorities. Democratic governments also allow for participation by a variety of groups, institutions and political parties. These ancillary groups operate independently of the central government, but have a participatory role, through the voices of citizens, in governmental actions and affairs. In contrast to democratic systems of governance, authoritarian governments divert power into the hands of the central government.