The following are the basic principles/fundamental features of democracy:
1. Popular Sovereignty:
The principle of popular sovereignty, which means the people are the source of all power, is the very essence of a democracy. The government gets all its power from their people. It exercises it so long as the people desire. People can change the government through elections. Government always tries to demonstrate its respect for the principle of sovereignty of the people.
2. Principle of Equality:
The principle of equality is the foremost principle of democracy. In it all the people, without any discrimination, are treated as equal. In fact respect for social and political equality of all the people is the cornerstone of democracy. All the people enjoy equal political rights, equality before law and equality of opportunity without any discrimination.
3. Equality of Opportunities:
Equality of opportunities is also a fundamental feature of democracy. It, however, does not stand for equal opportunities for all irrespective of their qualifications and abilities. It simply means that each individual should have a free and fair chance to compete and be selected on the basis of his/her qualifications and abilities. Each person enjoys the opportunity to progress and develop in society and contribute his/her efforts towards the betterment of society.
4. Equal Opportunity for Participation in Polities:
Democracy is a government of the people and one of its principal features is that it ensures free and equal political participation for all. For this purpose uniform equal franchise i.e., Universal Adult Franchise is granted to the people. The value of vote of each individual is equal to the value of vote of everyone else. Anyone can compete in the political struggle and after successfully competing in elections, can hold a public office.
5. Civil and Political Equality:
In a democracy, equal political rights are granted to all the citizens. Society is free from discrimination. Civil and. Political equality is regarded as both a natural and essential right for all. The people enjoy equal rights, freedoms as well as opportunities for exercising these rights.
6. Regular, Free and Fair Elections:
In a democratic system people are to elect their government. This requirement makes the holding of regular, free and fair elections an essential feature. Election is the process by which a decision is made as to who are to be the representatives of the people for the next 4 or 5 years. Every democratic state provides for an independent and efficient machinery for holding free and fair elections.
7. Rule of Law:
In a democratic system, the rule of law and not the rule of rulers is the rule. Everyone is under law. The government is organised and operationalised under the fundamental law of the land (the Constitution). All citizens are equal before law. The law is supreme. “Equal subjection of all to the same laws” is a fundamental principle of democracy.
8. Fundamental Rights and Freedom:
In a Democracy the people enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms including the right to secure the protection of their rights by the courts. An independent and powerful judicial system is provided for protecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people.
9. Independent, Impartial and Powerful Judiciary:
In a democracy, judiciary is always regarded as the guardian, interpreter and protector of the constitution and fundamental rights of the people. In order to enable it to perform its role objectively and freely, it is kept independent from the control of the legislature and executive. Judiciary is even empowered to reject the laws and acts of the legislature and executive which are held to be unconstitutional.
10. Transparent, Responsive and Responsible Government:
A democratic government always works in an open and transparent way. It is responsive to the demands of public opinion. It always tries to act in accordance with the wishes of the people. It is always accountable for its acts.
In a parliamentary democracy, the government remains in power so long as it enjoys the confidence of the majority in the parliament. The parliament is the mirror of public opinion. All the policies of the government have to be approved by the parliament i.e., by the representatives of the people.
11. Rule of Majority:
A sacred principle of democracy is the principle of taking all decisions by majority. The legislature passes laws by majority, the executive takes decisions by majority and the Supreme Court pronounces its judgements by majority. However, it does not mean that majority dominates all decision-making and no regard is paid to the wishes and views of the minorities. The majority tries to accommodate the wishes, views and interests of the minorities and very often decisions are made by consensus.
12. Right to Freedom:
In a democratic system, the people enjoy the right to freedom as a fundamental right. It includes the right to freedom of speech and expression, freedom of press, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom to form associations, freedom form arbitrary arrests and freedom to enjoy family life.
13. Freedom to form Political Parties, Interest Groups and Associations:
In a democratic system, the people have the freedom to form political parties and. through these they get involved in the struggle for power i.e. politics. The struggle for power is open and free. It involves a large majority of people. Political participation is encouraged. People have the right to form their interest groups and associations for securing and promoting their interests.
In a democratic system, power is not centralised in a few hands. It is kept decentralised in the hands of a large section of people. A system of internal checks and balances, socio-economic-political checks and balances, is maintained for preventing a misuse of power.
15. Right of the People to Criticise and Change the Government:
In a representative democracy people can criticise the policies of the government. Right to oppose the government as well as to change the government through elections is a fundamental feature of representative democracy.
These are the major principles of democracy. Faith is popular sovereignty and equality of all, democratically constituted responsive and responsible government, availability of all basic and fundamental rights and freedoms, rule of law, equal political rights and freedoms, and decentralisation of powers, are the principles without which no democratic system can be organised and worked.
A democracy always upholds the ideology of liberalism. That is why in contemporary times, it is known as Liberal Democracy. Democracy is now conceptualired as Liberal Democracy. Social, political and economic liberalism is the hall mark of Democracy.