Democracy is a form of government. It derives state authority from the national people and exercises it on behalf of the national people. The legislative authority and government justify their exercise of office through elections in which the national people chooses from among at least two alternatives; the majority determines who is elected. The loser of the election is protected as a minority and retains the same chances for the next election. Democracy lives from the institutional differences between government and opposition.
A modern democracy takes the form of a parliamentary-representative democracy in which the parliament and the government answerable to the parliament decide factual issues on behalf of the people. Direct decision of factual issues by the national people (plebiscitary democracy) is possible only within a limited scope. The questions that call for political resolution are usually so complex that they cannot be reduced to an alternative answerable with a simple Yes or No. Given the power of modern media, oftentimes the question is decided more by the person or entity placing the question before the people, and less by the people themselves. More than anything else, protections for minorities and individuals are weakened if policy issues are left to direct decision by the democratic sovereign, the national people.
The protection of minorities in a democracy guarantees the rights of the parliamentary opposition, and of every party and every association, while protecting the individual human rights of each person. Every person may freely think and freely express him- or herself, may exercise influence through free and public expressions, may publish within the scope of media freedoms, and may collect whatever information he or she wishes through the generally accessible sources available. The freedom to assemble and the freedom of association also strengthen people in their shared effects upon the democratic state.
These fundamental rights are predicated on a division of powers in which every individual can assert his or her rights versus the state authority on an equal footing in a court of law and can block state violations of his or her rights.
Every state authority faces the criticism of a free citizen that can lead to resistance and even rebellion. Democracy seeks to moderate this contrast between state authority and the people subject to this authority by tying state authority to the national people while recurrently renewing the state itself: liberty also entails the right to conduct experiments and create unconventional solutions and arrangements not previously considered. Ideally, parliamentarism expects the election of each new parliament to lead to better laws.
Democracy is built upon the national people, a cultural community of individuals. Under a democratic constitution, the relationship between state and national people is like that of a glove to a hand. The glove is lifeless without a hand inside it to set it in motion. The art of constitutional government is now to design this glove in such a way that it protects against injury, cold and moisture yet without robbing the hand – the people – of mobility or initiative.
Democracy knows as many manifestations as there are states that develop cultures of their own. Indispensable features of democracy include the principle of elections, time limits on the exercise of power, majority rule with minority protections, and guarantees of human rights in a system characterised by checks and balances of power. Whether an election applies to an individual delegate (election of candidates) or a party (proportionality) depends on the characteristic features of the national people and its culture. The election procedure itself, the coexistence of parliamentary and presidential elections and the possibilities of a parliamentary monarchy are also part of the diversity of political cultures that can take shape under the concept of a democracy.