Representative Government: Definition, Features, Pros & Cons
Meaning of Representative Government
Representative government is a form of government in which the people exercise power indirectly through their elected representatives. As direct democracy practised in the Greek City States is no longer possible in modern states, some form of representation in government becomes absolutely imperative.
Whatever the method of representation that may be devised, there are two indispensable requirements of a representative government. First, it must be recognized that sovereignty belongs to thepeople and as such, the government ought to be responsible to the people.
In other words, though government must provide leadership and direction to the people it should be guided, at all times, by the wishes and desires of the people.
The second requirement of representative government is that the will of the majority is greater than that of the minority. The representative government was flrst developed in England between 1250 and 1650. Its main purpose is to ensure that the desires of the people are effectively and adequately represented in government.
Method Of Establishing Representative Government
The most acceptable method of establishing a representative government is by election. Since it is not possible for every individual to participate directly in running the affairs of the state, he has to delegate his power to the elected representative.
Sometimes the representatives are selected as in countries which have constitutional monarchies e.g. in Britain where members of the upper house (House of Lords) are nominated.
Features of Representative Government
Features and conditions necessary for the establishment of representative government.
- Independent electoral commission: An independent electoral commission, comprising competent electoral officers, is necessary for the establishment of representative government. Such a commission should be given responsibility for conducting free and fair elections, devoid of electoral malpractices.
- Up-to-date electoral register: An up-to-date, regularly revised electoral register should be provided for voters. WeII-informed electorate. One of the features of representative government is a politically conscious, intelligent electorate.
- Properly define epectoral constituencies: Electoral districts or constituencies should be properly delimited to ensure equitable representation of the people.
- Periodic elections: Elections should be held from time to time to enable the electorate to renew the mandate of the current representatives, or replace them with new representatives.
- Independent judiciary: There should be an effective, independent judiciary which is free from executive and legislative control, so as to be able to try any election cases impartially. Citizens should also be free to challenge the decision of the electoral body in court.
- Press freedom: There should be press freedom so that the policies and programmes of the competing parties and candidates could be freely publicised.
- Accountability: Representative government would be sustained if elected officials are responsive and accountable to the people that voted them into power.
Merits of Representative Government
- Choice of leaders: The opportunity is created for the people to choose political leaders without any hindrance.
- The system is simple to operate: It is easy to identify those responsible for the failure of government.
- It makes for stability: The government inplace is legitimate and legally constituted.
- It allows for the people’s participation: The people are given the opportunity to take part in the decision-making of their country. It makes for an enduring democracy.
- Election is the yardstick: The government is set up through the normal electoral process.
- The elected leaders are accountable: The representatives are responsive and accountable to the electorate under this system.
- Rule of law: The administration is based on respect for the rule of law and obedience to the provisions of the constitution by the elected political leaders.
Demerits of Representative Government
- No true Independence of the Judiciary: This is because judiciary may be under the control of the government in power.
- Rigging of elections: This is a big threat to a truly defined representative government. The electorate could be denied the choice made.
- Illiteracy: The inability of some voters to properly identify party names and symbols may lead to wrong choice of candidates.
- Divergent interests: A representative may not be a true representative. This is because different shades of interests in the society may not be represented.
- Selfish Interest: The representatives may not adequately represent their people or community due to some selfish interest.
- Corruption: It makes for corrupt practices among the politicians who may want to acquire power at all costs.
- Costly to run: Too much money, men, etc, are needed for a successful conduct of elections of this magnitude.
- Duplication of functions: This makes for a delay in the process of administration. Too many people are involved and have to be consulted on issues of national importance.
- General belief of the people: Some people see politics as a dirty game and this can scare away responsible and honest men from contesting in the elections.