Democracy Education for Iraq—Nine Brief Themes
(The following are nine one-paragraph explanations of different elements of democracy. These were to be used as part of a civic education campaign in Iraq encompassing twenty-one different themes.)
1. Citizens’ Rights
What Rights Do Citizens Have in A Democracy?
Everyone Has Basic Human Rights that the State Cannot Take Away
In a democracy, every citizen has certain basic rights that the state cannot take away from them. These rights are internationally recognized and guaranteed. Everyone has the right to have their own beliefs, including their religious beliefs, and to say and write what they think. Everyone has the right to seek different sources of information and ideas. Everyone has the right to associate with other people, and to form and join organizations of their own choice, including trade unions. Everyone has the right to assemble and to protest government actions. However, citizens have an obligation to exercise these rights peacefully, with respect for the law and for the rights of others.
What is the Benefit of a Federal or Decentralized Government?
Federalism Will Benefit All the People of Iraq
by Distributing Power Fairly throughout the Country.
More and more democracies are adopting federalism, or some form of decentralization. According to this principle, each government function should be performed by the lowest level of government that is capable of performing that function effectively. Only the national government can print currency, conduct foreign policy, manage trade and borders, and provide for the nation’s defense. However, local matters, such as community services, are best managed by local or provincial government. Local authorities are better able to know and respond to the immediate needs and interests of their citizens. Decentralization promotes national unity by distributing power and resources more fairly around the country, bringing government closer to the people, and allowing local communities some control over their own affairs. Democracy is more stable when power is devolved along geographic lines and not according to ethnic or sectarian divisions.
3. Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence
Why Does Democracy Require the Separation of Powers?
If Political Power is to be Limited and Responsible,
the Legislature and Judiciary Must Be Independent of the Executive
In a democracy, the exercise of political power must respect the law, the constitution, and the will of the people, through the decisions of their [elected] legislative representatives. This requires that power be separated so that the head of government and his ministers do not have the power to make the law or to interfere in court cases. In a democracy, the executive branch implements policies and programs, administers the national budget, and conducts national affairs. It may also propose laws, but only the parliament may enact legislation, including the budget. Only the courts can decide the guilt or innocence of individuals charged with a crime, and only the higher courts can determine whether a law or a government action or policy is constitutional.
4. Executive Powers
How is Executive Power Structured in a Democracy?
Government may be headed by either a president or a prime minister.
Many democracies now divide executive powers between the two offices.
In presidential democracies, the government is headed by a directly elected president, who is also the ceremonial head of state. In parliamentary democracies, the government is headed by a prime minister and his cabinet, who must enjoy the confidence of parliament, while a president or king acts as the ceremonial head of state. Many newer democracies have chosen an intermediate system. The prime minister and his cabinet are responsible for the day-to-day administration of government through the ministries. But the presidency holds the position of head of state, and has the power to nominate the prime minister, to veto legislation, and to make or approve certain judicial and governmental appointments. By partially dividing executive authority, this intermediate system may help prevent the abuse of power.
5. What is Democracy?
Government authority flows from the people and is based upon their consent.
Democracy is a system of government in which a country’s political leaders are chosen by the people in regular, free, and fair elections. In a democracy, people have a choice between different candidates and parties who want the power to govern. The people can criticize and replace their elected leaders and representatives if they do not perform well. The people are sovereign—they are the highest authority—and government is based on the will of the people. Elected representatives at the national and local levels must listen to the people and be responsive to their needs.
6. The Global Spread of Democracy
How Widespread is Democracy in the World?
Today most countries in the world are democracies.
Democracy is the only form of government that people around the world view as legitimate.
Thirty years ago, only a quarter of the states of the world were democracies. Since then, democracy has rapidly expanded throughout the world. Today 120 countries—three in every five countries—choose their leaders in free and fair, multiparty elections. And many others are struggling to achieve democracy. People of every religious faith—Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and others—aspire to live in free and democratic societies. Democracy is the only form of government in the world that is widely viewed as morally legitimate. It is the only form of government that is capable of fully satisfying international covenants on civil and political rights.
What is the Role of the Citizen in a Democracy?
Citizens participate in public affairs, with respect for different points of view.
The key role of citizens in a democracy is participation. This takes many forms. Citizens have an obligation to become informed about public issues, to monitor the conduct of their leaders and representatives, and to express their own opinions. Participation also involves voting in elections, debating issues, attending community meetings, becoming involved in private, voluntary organizations, and even protesting. However, political participation in a democracy must be peaceful, respectful of the law, and tolerant of the different views of other groups and individuals.
8. What is the Rule of Law?
Laws and Procedures Apply Fairly and Equally to All Citizens
Democracy is a system of rule by laws, not individuals. In a democracy, the rule of law protects the rights of citizens, maintains order, and limits the power of government. All citizens are equal under the law. No one may be discriminated against on the basis of their race, religion, ethnic group, or gender. No one may be arrested, imprisoned, or exiled arbitrarily. No one may be denied their freedom without a fair and public hearing by an impartial court. No one may be taxed or prosecuted except by a law established in advance. No one is above the law, not even a king or an elected president. The law is fairly, impartially, and consistently enforced, by courts that are independent of the other branches of government.
9. Due Process of Law
What Rights do Citizens Have in the Criminal Justice System?
In a democracy, anyone accused of a crime has the right to a fair, speedy, and public trial.
Just because someone is accused of a crime does not mean that he loses his rights. Anyone arrested is presumed innocent until proven guilty. A person’s guilt must be proved in a court of law, through a fair, speedy, and public trial. In a democracy, a person accused of a crime has the right to know the charges against him, to remain silent, to have legal representation, to participate in his defense, and to question witnesses for the prosecution. No person who is acquitted of a crime may be tried again on that charge. No one—under any circumstance—may ever be subjected to torture, or to cruel and inhuman treatment. No one may be imprisoned or have their property seized without legal justification.