Direct Democracy: Definition, Features, Pros & Cons

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Direct Democracy

Direct Democracy – Form of government in which each individual is part of decision-making.

Definition of Direct Democracy

The democracy directly or pure democracy is a form of government in which each individual belonging to a group, directly exercises the power to the part of decision-making, without the need for a representative.

Thus, through an assembly, the people have the right to participate in decision-making, approval or repeal of laws, election of public officials and resolution of problems of any kind.

This type of democracy was practiced in Ancient Greece, and although today it is difficult for all members of a population to participate in an assembly, it is possible to find some examples of direct democracy incorporated in trials by jury, neighborhood assemblies and in some governments that give rise to popular initiatives voted in a referendum.

Direct Democracy: Definition, Features, Pros & Cons

Assembly during 2006 in Glarus, a canton of Switzerland.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Direct Democracy

Advantage of Direct Democracy

The advantages of direct democracy are as follows:

  • It shows the true will of the majority, since the decisions are made by themselves.
  • The citizen has a political and social conscience, and since he is himself responsible for the decisions made, he is committed to public improvement.
  • Citizens can express themselves freely, with the security of being heard and the certainty of asserting their rights.
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Disadvantages of Direct Democracy

The disadvantages of direct democracy are as follows:

  • Political and social decisions can be slow and costly, since it requires a large organization and laborious instruments to define an action or decision.
  • The duty to participate in each decision-making can cause discomfort in citizens, since it takes away time to dedicate to their work, family, leisure, etc.
  • In countries with high demographic density it is difficult for direct democracy to prevail, since involving so many citizens in constant decision-making becomes practically unfeasible.

Difference Between Direct Democracy and Representative Democracy

The main difference between direct democracy and representative or indirect democracy lies in the method of decision-making. Although both are based on the popular vote, the first exercises through assemblies and the second through representatives.

Direct democracy is based on the old Athenian model, where the citizen participated in decision-making and authority was exercised directly by himself. In representative democracy, on the other hand, citizens vote to elect their representatives, who will make decisions on their behalf for the duration of their mandate.

Examples of Countries Practicing Direct Democracy

Some of the countries that implement modern direct democracy are as follows:

  • Switzerland: This country has used the referendum for decision-making since 1847.
  • United States: Many of its states allow the voting of initiatives by their citizens.
  • Uruguay: If the government causes discontent or discomfort to the citizens, they can resort to the referendum to assert their ideas, this being a way of applying direct democracy.
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It should be noted that these countries have partially established this system, since it is only applied in some regions of their territory, with Switzerland being the emblematic country in the application of modern direct democracy.

At present, some countries have introduced laws for the people to decide on certain specific matters, such is the case of recall referendums and the implementation or repeal of laws through plebiscites and assemblies, this being a way of applying direct democracy.


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