Features of Representative Government
Representative government, also known as indirect democracy, is defined as a government of elected representatives of the people. Those elected, through organised elections, rule on behalf of the people and with every assurance that their interests will be enhanced and protected.
The system is based on accountability and responsibility of the political leaders. Elections into different positions in government are conducted periodically.
Major Features of Representative Government
The major features of representative government are the following.
1. Equality of Voting Rights
There should be equality of voting rights. Put differently, the representative must truly represent the will of the people. He represents individuals, their opinions and interests. To ensure equality of voting rights the following should be in place:
- The representative should be elected according to geographicallydemarcated constituencies. That is, his election should not be based on class, sex, occupational factors or distinct interests.
- The individual voter should take part in the election of the representative. In order to use his vote in an intelligent way, the voter should be educated. But more importantly, there is no evidence in our political environment to show that educated people vote more wisely than the uneducated ones. In any case, one may be literate and yet be uneducated. Ironically, the educated elite hardly vote but the masses who usually vote at elections are poorly educated about how to exercise their franchise.
- There is sovereignty of the people, which has to be exercised through universal suffrage.
- There should be free and fair elections in which the people have the liberty to choose, by secret ballot, the candidates of their choice.
- There should be an up-to-date register of voters, which should be revised and displayed periodically.
- There should be frequent and regular elections and the acceptance of majority decisions.
2. Existence of an Effective Legislature
The representatives must be free to debate issues and take decisions. In other words, as representatives of the people, the legislature should not be encumbered in any way in the performance of its duties.
To ensure the freedom of legislative discussion and decision-making, representatives should be entitled to the following:
- They should enjoy certain privileges such as freedom of speech and freedom of expression. The legislator cannot be prosecuted for any view or criticism expressed on the floor of parliament and in the course of parliamentary business.
- Representatives have immunity from prosecution while going or retuming from parliament and while in the house. He cannot also be compelled to serve as a witness or as a member of the jury while being a member if the assembly.
- Legislators have access to oflieial information. The representative needs facts and figures on every legislative matter in order to attack, defend or criticize government, to investigate complaints and to understand a bill.
- They should be free from government control.
3. Protection of Civil Rights
The legislature must serve as a bulwark against the encroachment of executive power, especially on the liberties of the individual. In short, the civil rights of the citizens such as freedom of association and expression must be protected. This allows the people to participate actively in the government.
4. Binding Legislative Decisions
The decisions of the legislature must be binding on the government.
5. Equality of Citizens to Hold Public Office
Every individual must have equal eligibility to executive, legislative and judicial positions.