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Know What Liberal Democracy, the Most Followed System, Means

What Does Liberal Democracy Mean?
While the term liberal democracy is widely used to describe the political systems typical to the West, most people seem to be ill-informed about what it means. That might have something to do with the fact that people don't know that there exist different forms of democracy.
Abhijit Naik
Last Updated: Feb 25, 2019
... and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.
― Abraham Lincoln
Most people associate democracy with President Abraham Lincoln's famous "of the people, by the people, for the people"-famed Gettysburg address.
What they are unaware of, is the fact that there exist several variants of democracy, which are categorized into two basic forms: (i) direct democracy, which involves direct and active participation of people, and (ii) representative democracy, in which elected representatives take decisions on the behalf of people.
On the basis of how the system works, direct and representative democracies are further divided into different variants. For instance, there is the Athenian democracy―a system of direct democracy in which citizens vote to decide on legislation and bills.
Then there is liberal democracy, a system of representative democracy in which the rights of the individual are given utmost importance. While Athenian democracy is one of the first-known systems in the world, liberal democracy is one of the most followed system.
Liberal Democracy
Voting box
Liberal democracy is a form of representative democracy where elected representatives are given the power to decide on legislative and political matters, which they have to do within the ambit of the constitution.
As its name suggests, liberal democracy brings together two different concepts: democracy and liberalism; the latter being a political philosophy advocating the freedom of an individual. The characteristic faith in an individual typical to this variant of democracy can be attributed to the belief that an individual is both, moral and rational.
Among other things, liberal democracy is typically characterized by free and fair elections held on a regular basis to ensure that those in power are supported by a majority of the people. This is in stark contrast of illiberal or pseudo democracy, where elections do take place, but the citizens don't know who has the reins of power in his hands.
Characteristics of a Liberal Democracy
People protesting with board and megaphone
In a liberal democracy, an individual's right to life, freedom, speech, choice, religion, fair trial, property, etc., are given utmost importance.
The rights and freedoms of the individual are laid out in the form a constitution, which can be written, as in the case of the United States, or unwritten, as in the case of UK.
Besides freedom, this system also stresses on equality, maintaining that all individuals are created equal, and have equal rights and opportunities.

The standard of life is better for most people in liberal democracies, with better education, better health care, longer life expectancy, access to drinking water, etc.
Voters registering and voting
Liberal democracies have at least two or more political parties. The one that wins majority of the votes polled comes to power, while other parties play the role of the opposition. The opposition is the voice of those people who disagree with the government.
Also in place is the system of checks and balances, i.e., the separation of powers, so as to ensure that no particular branch of the government becomes overtly strong.
The list of countries with liberal democracy is pretty lengthy, but a little confusing as the concept thrives in these countries in various forms. Some countries have the presidential system in place, while others resort to the parliamentary system. Similarly, some of these countries are constitutional republics, while some are constitutional monarchies.
The United States has a presidential system, wherein the executive branch, headed by the president, is separated from the legislative branch. Other examples of this form of government include Brazil, Myanmar, etc. On the other hand, countries like India and Australia have a parliamentary system, where the prime minister is a part of the legislative body.
While the United States, Italy, France, and India are constitutional republics, people elect the head of the state and other officials as their representatives, Japan, Spain, and Commonwealth realms, like the UK and Australia, are constitutional monarchies, a form of monarchy where the monarch exercises his power within the framework of the constitution.
The critics of liberal democracy are of the opinion that elected representatives don't necessarily represent the will of the people. Once elected, they are free to make their own decision based on their interests.
The system has also come under scanner for voter turnout, with questions being raised on whether it actually addresses the will of the people in the case of low voter turnout.

Critics also argue that this form of democracy doesn't protect the interests of minorities, especially when their interests conflict with what is accepted behavior for the majority.
It might come across as an ideal political system, but as you can see, liberal democracy has had its fair share of criticism. Renowned German sociologist, Robert Michels, considered it a decorative form of oligarchy, where the power resides in the hands of a few.
Others take it a notch further and call it bourgeois democracy, as they feel that the elected representatives only fight for the rights of the bourgeoisie, i.e., the middle class.