From Stanford University:
Democracy consists of four basic elements:
I want to begin with an overview of what democracy is. We can think of democracy as a system of government with four key elements:
1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
I want to talk about each of these four elements of what democracy is. Then I will talk about the obligations and requirements of citizens in a democracy.
Then I will conclude by talking about the obligations that we, the international community, have to the people of Iraq as you seek to build the first true democracy in the Arab world.
I. Democracy as a Political System of Competition for Power
Democracy is a means for the people to choose their leaders and to hold their leaders accountable for their policies and their conduct in office.
The people decide who will represent them in parliament, and who will head the government at the national and local levels. They do so by choosing between competing parties in regular, free and fair elections.
Government is based on the consent of the governed.
In a democracy, the people are sovereign—they are the highest form of political authority.
Power flows from the people to the leaders of government, who hold power only temporarily.
Laws and policies require majority support in parliament, but the rights of minorities are protected in various ways.
The people are free to criticize their elected leaders and representatives, and to observe how they conduct the business of government.
Elected representatives at the national and local levels should listen to the people and respond to their needs and suggestions.
Elections have to occur at regular intervals, as prescribed by law. Those in power cannot extend their terms in office without asking for the consent of the people again in an election.
For elections to be free and fair, they have to be administered by a neutral, fair, and professional body that treats all political parties and candidates equally.
All parties and candidates must have the right to campaign freely, to present their proposals to the voters both directly and through the mass media.
Voters must be able to vote in secret, free of intimidation and violence.
Independent observers must be able to observe the voting and the vote counting to ensure that the process is free of corruption, intimidation, and fraud.
There needs to be some impartial and independent tribunal to resolve any disputes about the election results.
This is why it takes a lot of time to organize a good, democratic election.
Any country can hold an election, but for an election to be free and fair requires a lot of organization, preparation, and training of political parties, electoral officials, and civil society organizations who monitor the process.