There are no longer any voter-qualification impediments to democracy in the United States. But many have noted that the will of the people has tended not to prevail, and that a majority of people eligible to vote are so discouraged that they do not vote. The main reason for this is the buying and selling of elections and politicians by the wealthier class of citizens and their special interest groups. A year or more before elections take place, the winner is decided by those who vote with dollars. But this is a defect in democracy, not a reason to abandon it. The answer is to cure the defect, not to attempt to destroy our representative democracy.
A third serious setback was Egypt. The collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011, amid giant protests, raised hopes that democracy would spread in the Middle East. But the euphoria soon turned to despair. Egypt’s ensuing elections were won not by liberal activists (who were hopelessly divided into a myriad of Pythonesque parties) but by Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Mr Morsi treated democracy as a winner-takes-all system, packing the state with Brothers, granting himself almost unlimited powers and creating an upper house with a permanent Islamic majority. In July 2013 the army stepped in, arresting Egypt’s first democratically elected president, imprisoning leading members of the Brotherhood and killing hundreds of demonstrators. Along with war in Syria and anarchy in Libya, this has dashed the hope that the Arab spring would lead to a flowering of democracy across the Middle East.
Control of the Abuse of Power
One of the most common abuses of power is corruption, which occurs when government officials use public funds for their own benefit or they exercise power in an illegal way. To protect against these abuses, democratic governments are often structured to limit the powers of government offices and the people who work for them. For example, the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government have distinct functions and can “check and balance” the powers of other branches. In addition, independent agencies can investigate and impartial courts can punish government leaders and employees who abuse power.
Independent Judiciary Independent Judiciary
In democracies courts and the judicial system are impartial. Judges and the judiciary branch must be free to act without influence or control from the executive and legislative branches of government. They should also not be corrupt or obligated to influential individuals, businesses, or political groups. These ideas are related to the rule of law and to controlling the abuse of power. An independent judiciary is essential to a just and fair legal system.
The Rule of Law The Rule of Law
In a democracy no one is above the law—not even a king, elected president, police officer, or member of the military. Everyone must obey the law and will be held accountable if they violate it. Democracy also insists that laws are equally, fairly, and consistently enforced.