The popular definition of the term democracy is that it is government of the people, by the people and for the people, though in actual practice we know that this is not always true. In large democracies it is not possible for millions of people to participate in the formulation of policies or in their execution; it is largely left to their elected representatives.
Though few recognize it, democracy is the oldest form of government we know. In ancient Greek city-states all the members of the community met together to decide what was for their good.
In ancient India too we read of all the village elders meeting to take important decisions affecting their lives. In both these cases it was possible for them to meet to take decisions because they were small groups. Once there small groups became a part of a large group, thus actual participation by all became impossible.
Kings and their ministers ruled over them. In most cases the people had no say in the administration. Benevolent monarchs distinguished themselves by their good deeds. But not all kings were benevolent. There were kings who prided in personal glory and vain splendor. They were more interested in displaying their wealth and power than in satisfying the needs of their subjects. The two major revolutions of recent history were a direct result of such monarchies. The czars of Russia and the emperors of France by their extravagance and greed paved the way for revolutions.
England is the only country in the world where democracy in its true form has been flourishing for well over seven centuries, in spite of attempts made by some kings to ignore the Parliament.
Democratic tradition is so well established in Britain that it has become their way of life. This is true of several of the Common-wealth countries too. They have succeeded in evolving parliamentary system suited to their needs. But there are some countries in the Commonwealth where democratic form of government has not quite succeeded. They are trying out their own versions of democracy.
One of the leading democracies of the world today is the United States of America. Their system of government is not the same as that of the United Kingdom. They have the presidential system and in Britain they have constitutional monarchy. It is interesting to observe how in many underdeveloped or developing countries of Africa, Asia and South America, Democracy does not seem to be in fashion. It is possible this form of government is not suited to their needs. The one great exception is India which is truly the largest democracy in the world.
Democracy is not without its disadvantages. Periodic elections are very expensive and a poor country cannot afford it. In a democracy the majority decides for the country and the majority need not always be right. Sheer numerical strength does not always mean that their policy is sound.
In developing countries factors other than merits may influence selection of candidates and this is not in the interest of good government. For effective administration a well knit powerful opposition party is essential. In countries like India, we do not have them. On the other hand in a democracy their is absolute freedom of expression and equality of opportunity. And this, I suppose, makes it the least evil and hence the best form of government.