Difference Between Direct Democracy and Indirect Democracy

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: September 02, 2023

       

Difference Between Direct Democracy and Indirect Democracy

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Introduction

Based on the doctrine of popular sovereignty, a true democracy is one that actively responds to the needs and interests of its citizens. The Preamble of the Indian Constitution declares India as a “democratic polity” which implies the possession of supreme power by the people. This power is exercised either directly by the people themselves through rules, institutions, and processes or through elected representatives who represent their constituency. “Direct democracy” is often treated as a panacea to the shortcomings of “representative” or “indirect democracy”; however, it is crucial to understand the topic in its entirety and understand what best fulfils the interests of the people.

Direct Democracy vs. Indirect Democracy

Direct democracy, as the term suggests, implies the direct exercise of power by the people, which enables them to directly participate in the decision-making process that impacts them. In simple words, “direct democracy” can be understood as a method of self-governance that enables the citizens in multiple ways to effectively address the real concerns facing them. On the other hand, “indirect democracy”, which is the most common form of democracy today, involves representatives elected by the people to legislate and make decisions on their behalf and run the government.

Difference Between Direct Democracy and Indirect Democracy in Tabular Form

ParametersDirect DemocracyIndirect Democracy
DefinitionThe efficiency is better here due to the specialization and expertise of elected officials in their fields and as they are solely responsible for the work at hand.It implies indirect participation by citizens in the governance through representatives elected on their behalf.
Population sizeA regular practice of this form of democracy is only suitable for countries with less population.In countries with a large population, indirect democracy is a more effective tool to ensure better representation.
IntermediaryThe absence of any intermediary in the decision-making process is a distinct feature of direct democracy.Here, elected representatives hold the power to legislate and make decisions on popular behalf.
EfficiencyA direct form of democracy is considered to be less efficient as it could be time-consuming due to citizens being required to vote on all government issues.The United States, India and Canada are a few examples of representative democracy.
TransparencyAs decisions are made directly by the citizens, it allows for greater transparency and openness on urgent matters in a public forum.There is less involvement of the masses due to the delegation of decision-making responsibilities to elected officials.
Popular involvementThe degree of citizen involvement is greater in direct democracy as it attracts larger groups of people to become a part of the decision-making process.There is less involvement of the masses due to the delegation of decision-making responsibilities to elected officials.
GovernanceThe four main devices of direct democracy include referendum, initiative, recall and plebiscite.The method of governance is more sophisticated and complex due to dedicated institutions for specific purposes like judiciary and election commissions, among others.
ExamplesThe four main devices of direct democracy include referendum, initiative, recall, and plebiscite.Switzerland, Ancient Athens, and New England town meetings are some examples of direct democracies.

What Is Direct Democracy?

In its simplest form, direct democracy or “pure democracy” can be understood as a direct exercise of power by the people through a general vote on all laws, policies, and bills. The need for a method of direct governance arises as a response to address the various shortcomings of representative governance. As the people themselves make the decisions through voting, it is viewed as a preferable choice as it reflects the fulfillment of the real values of democracy as well as gives a clear picture of the will of the people.

Devices of Direct Democracy

There are four main devices of direct democracy, namely:

  • Referendum- A referendum enables the citizens to exercise their voting power directly. Here, legislation is referred to the people by the governing authorities for settlement, which can either be approved or repealed by the people through direct votes.
  • Initiative- This method allows the citizens to put forward a bill in front of the legislature, which is initiated through a certain number of signatures.
  • Recall- it provides people with the power to remove an elected officer from his office before the expiry of his term in case he fails to perform his official duties.
  • Plebiscite- This can be employed as a tool by the government to gain popular opinion on matters of public importance. The government generally uses it to deal with territorial disputes.

Advantages of Direct Democracy

  • The primary advantage is that it allows people to feel heard and have a say on issues ignored or excluded by representative parties.
  • It also strengthens the main feature of a democratic polity wherein people must be at the core of all decision-making, and the laws and policies must truly address the concerns of the people.
  • It allows the development of a sense of responsibility among the citizens by making them a part of the democratic process instead of simply being passive actors. This, in turn, opens them to the real challenges and understanding of governance and, hence, more engaged in public life.
  • It allows citizens to make decisions free of any external interference and, therefore, be able to decide what truly benefits everyone.
  • It allows for better accountability as the people can directly hold the officials responsible for their inaction or ineffective decisions.

Disadvantages of Direct Democracy

  • Citizen competence and information remain an important concern as they are required to respond to complex issues for which they might not possess the necessary expertise.
  • There is always a fear of minorities not being given an adequate voice due to majoritarian influence, who may make biased decisions non-reflective of the general concerns of the society.
  • The process can be time-consuming because all citizens participate in the decision-making process.

What Is Indirect Democracy?

Indirect or representative democracy is the most adopted form of democracy in the world today and is generally employed in countries with larger populations. It allows citizens to choose representatives who govern and make decisions on their behalf. The functioning of indirect democracies is governed and regulated by the constitution, which provides for the presence of well-organized and formal institutions that facilitate smooth governance.

Characteristics of Indirect Democracy

  • Representative democracy is of two kinds, viz., parliamentary and presidential democracy. India is an example of a parliamentary form of democracy, wherein the executive is responsible to the legislature for all its decisions and the three organs (legislature, executive and judiciary) function closely with each other. Whereas in a presidential form of government, the president is the only head of the state, and all the organs of the government are independent of each other.
  • Rule of Law is an important feature of an indirect form of government that implies “equality before the law” and “equal protection of the law”, which ensures the absence of arbitrary power and the subjection of all citizens to the ordinary law of the land.
  • An indirect form of democracy is representative in nature and, therefore, implies indirect participation of the citizens.
  • It promises inclusivity and representation of all sections of society and is, therefore, a representation of the diverse interests of society.

Advantages of Indirect Democracy

  • As elected officials possess better understanding, experience, and expertise in their field, they can better respond to complex and new situations.
  • Indirect democracies function with a shared purpose of general benefit of the society in contrast to a direct democracy where there are chances of decisions purely based on self-interest.
  • An indirect form of democracy promises more inclusivity and diversity with better minority representation.
  • The presence of formal structures and institutions of governance helps speed up the process of implementation and passing of bills and laws.

Disadvantages of Indirect Democracy

  • There remains the concern of the accurate representation of the demands of the wider population.
  • Public interest may be compromised due to elitist interests and therefore giving no real voice to the ordinary citizens.
  • It can discourage popular participation due to dependency or lack of interest of the citizens, which, in turn, would not provide a clear reflection of the voice of the majority.
  • Representative democracies pose the risk of polarization of opinions due to varied beliefs and interests.

Main Difference Between Direct Democracy and Indirect Democracy in Points

  • Direct democracy is an unmediated form of government with direct rule by the people, whereas in indirect democracy, the elected officials act as mediators between the citizens and the government.
  • While direct democracy is suitable for smaller populations and communities, indirect democracy is seen as an effective choice for countries with large populations.
  • The citizens who actively participate in the decision-making process constitute the legislature in a direct democracy, whereas in an indirect democracy, the representatives from the majority party form the legislature and the government.
  • Larger popular participation and involvement is a positive feature of direct rule, whereas the major decisions and actions are performed by the representatives in indirect rule.
  • Transparency and openness are better in direct democracy as compared to indirect democracy, wherein the citizens do not directly participate in the legislation and governance.

Conclusion

Each country, based on its demography, specific cultural needs, and interests, along with several other factors, opt for a suitable method of governance, whether direct or indirect. While both forms of democracy have their pros and cons, it is necessary to understand the implications and effectiveness of both forms of democracy to be able to provide real benefits to the citizens.


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"Difference Between Direct Democracy and Indirect Democracy." Diffzy.com, 2024. Sun. 19 May. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-direct-democracy-and-indirect-democracy>.



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