This article is written by Daisy Jain, from the Institute of Law, Nirma University. This is an exhaustive article that deals with representative democracy.

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.


A democracy is a system of government in which citizens are empowered to make political choices and participate in the creation and quotation of legislation. Even while democracy was practiced by many historical civilizations, it is believed to have been established in ancient Greece, specifically in the city-state of Athens; Athens’ democracy was a direct democracy. 

There are two types of democracy:

  1. Direct democracy is another name for pure democracy. In a direct democracy, voters choose and dismiss public officials who are not performing their duties adequately, suggest, decide, and alter constitutional laws, and start referendums. A majority of the voters must adopt a law that is offered by the country’s residents. Smaller groups, where it is simple to hear every vote and there is a high voter turnout, are appropriate for this type of system.
  2. Representative democracy is one in which voters select or elect a public servant to speak for them when laws are being made. They are the ones who propose and vote on laws on behalf of the constituents they are elected to represent, known as electors. Larger nations with lower voter turnout or those where it would be challenging to collect every voter’s ballot would benefit more from this type of system.

Representative democracy

Representative democracy is a form of governance in which the people of a nation elect the officials who will administer legislation and run the state on their behalf. It is the reverse of both autocracies, where a ruler has unlimited authority and the citizenry has no involvement in how a country is run, and direct democracy, where the people can vote on laws to be made and other matters.

In comparison to direct democracy, representative democracy is based on the idea that elected individuals should represent a group of people. It is also referred to as indirect democracy or representative governance. Today, a number of representative institutions are primarily how democracy is carried out. Elections are often held in a representative democracy on the basis of an all-adult franchise. It means that everyone, regardless of gender, caste, creed, area, language, or culture, is eligible to cast a ballot in a general election after reaching the required age (such as 18 or 21 years old). The ‘electorate’ is the collective term for all of a community’s voters.

Representative democracy is crucial because it enables citizens to get to know their representatives before electing them. It is unrealistic to expect people to have the time or motivation to make significant decisions on a regular basis. As a result, representative democracy holds the elected official responsible for the actions of the people.

Examples of representative democracy

Representative democracies can be found in almost all modern democracies:

  • United States – The federal government of the United States of America is a representative democracy. The President, members of the House of Representatives, and senators are chosen by the general public. The governor and legislators in each state in the United States are chosen by the people.
  • United Kingdom – It is a representative democracy in the United Kingdom. Members of the House of Commons and the Prime Minister are chosen through elections. The monarch appoints House of Lords members in England (queen or king). Parliament is made up of the two houses combined.
  • Canada – The Prime Minister and Members of Parliament (MPs) who sit in the House of Commons are chosen by the general public in Canada, which is a representative democracy. The Monarch of Canada is the same as the queen or the king of England. The Governor-General, who chooses the senators for Canada, acts as the monarch’s representative.
  • AustraliaAustralia comprises six states. The Prime Minister of the nation is chosen by the people. The nation belongs to the British Monarchy as well. However, all senators and representatives (who together make up parliament) are chosen by the general public. The states and territories of the nation each have their respective parliaments.
  • India – Both the President and the Prime Minister are chosen by the people in India’s representative democracy. The Prime Minister presides over Parliament, whereas the President is in charge of the military forces in India. The House of the People (Lok Sabha), which is chosen by the populace, and the Council of States (Rajya Sabha), which is chosen by the President and partly elected by the states and territories, make up Parliament which also comprises Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

Characteristics of representative democracy 

The following are the characteristics of a representative democracy: 

  • Governing structure – In representative democracies, the government must often operate within a pre-existing structure. For instance, the Constitution of the United States serves as the nation’s governing structure. It lays forth the regulations for Elections, checks and balances, the division of powers, which positions must be filled by-elections, and other fundamental ideas. 
  • Independent judiciary – In a representative democracy, the judiciary is typically independent. This body has the authority to judge whether or not the laws passed by the legislative body comply with the country’s constitution (or other governing structure).
  • Elected legislature – In a representative democracy, at least a portion of the legislative body is chosen by popular vote. In the majority of cases, this is true for the whole legislative body.
  • Appointment of officials – Representative democracies offer procedures via which elected officials can nominate individuals to fill certain positions. For instance, with Congress’ consent, the president of the United States can designate cabinet members. The president has the option to select a new vice president in the absence of a new election in the event that one is required.

Features of representative democracy 

There are two systems of representation:

(a) Territorial representation – Under geographical or territorial representation, the entire nation is split into constituencies, which are geographical regions with roughly equal populations. Each constituency’s voters have the right to choose which representatives are elected. This approach is easy to use and practical. It makes it possible for voters to get to understand their representatives better. However, occasionally it could result in regional problems receiving an excessive amount of attention, pushing national concerns to the side.

(b) Functional representation – Functional representation suggests that voters from various professions or functions should be able to choose their representatives based on this very principle. These representatives should cast votes on matters pertaining to their individual responsibilities. People from the industrial sector, for instance, should vote on industrial policy, and people from the agricultural sector should vote on agricultural policy.

Representative democracy’s detractors contend that the process of representation always dilutes the intellect of the people. Since direct democracy is the only fully democratic form of administration, it is exalted.

Historical developments of representative democracy 

Representative democracy has historically gone through phases of growth that were neither simple nor rapid. With the emergence of big nation-states that were incapable of being ruled through direct democracy, representation became necessary and had no substitute. In contrast to Frenchman Charles Louis de Montesquieu, who advocated for representative democracy, John Stuart Mill concentrated primarily on how to achieve effective government and reverence for individual rights and liberties. His theories on democracies are still relevant to contemporary democracies. Representative democracy is one in which the people elect their own representatives to make choices and enact laws. This idea was popularised by Montesquieu. 

In democracies, where citizens may make choices more easily, representative democracy has become essential. As a result, Montesquieu promoted the concept of power-sharing as well, contending that the separation of powers required that the legislative branch (parliament), the executive branch (government), and the judicial branch (courts) be totally independent of one another and possess the authority to exercise mutual restraint. The realization of the majority of citizens’ wishes through organizations and representative bodies that are directly chosen by the populace is the basic foundation of representative democracy. The representative entities chosen by the people and given the authority to rule the state instead represent the people and implement their sovereignty and governance on their behalf.

Basic principles of representative democracy 

Representative democracy is built on a number of basic principles, the most significant of which are:

  • Equality of all citizens before the law – All people must be treated equally under the law to be considered equal. International normative actions that go beyond government standards and compel governments to follow them also support it. These laws support the rules that prohibit unfair discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, religion, political views, or any other type of prejudice. Without outside intervention, everyone has the right to freely choose their domestic and international political status for their individual and collective rights as well as to promote political pluralism and the rule of law.
  • Free and fair elections – The most basic features of democracy, which set it apart from other kinds of administration, are free and fair elections. Voters have the chance to express their political views through voting during elections and have the option of punishing their representatives in the subsequent election if they believe those latter fail to adequately represent them. In a democracy, no one has a continuous mandate; instead, they all get the support of the people for a set amount of time before running for office again. Free elections, however, merely lay the foundation for the development of a democratic society. Only when the electoral bodies are entirely autonomous of the state authorities during the electoral process are elections regarded as unbiased.
  • Principle of popular sovereignty – Popular sovereignty is the principle of majority rule being used to carry out the political will of the people. Citizens either carry it out personally or through representative entities they have directly elected. Democracy, as a form of popular government, bases its legitimacy on the idea of popular sovereignty, which is exercised through formal freedoms of belief, expression, and association while also being guaranteed by representative democratic processes (elections). This ensures that the outcome of an election accurately reflects the wishes of the electorate. According to the doctrine of popular sovereignty, the electorate possesses sovereign authority. The king elects his deputies, who together make up the representative body known as the parliament, as he is unable to wield this authority directly.
  • Political liberty – This idea holds that people in democracies are shielded from governmental meddling in the enjoyment of fundamental liberties such as freedom of expression, assembly, movement, and thought. It is claimed that democracy and freedom go hand in hand. The idea of self-governance includes the freedoms of communication, petitioning the government, and joining any political party, interest organization, or social movement in addition to the right to vote and run for public office.

Critical views on representative democracy 

Distinct views exist on representative democracy. According to the first, elections are the ultimate source of political power in representative democracies. Therefore, representative democracy’s strength resides in its ability to combine significant political engagement with blind elite power. Politicians are charged with running the country, but because the public elected them and has the power to oust them, they are compelled to accede to popular demands. The voter has the same influence in political marketplaces as consumers do in commercial ones.

  • Pluralist – Another school of view holds that democracy is inherently pluralistic. Pluralism is a dedication to variation or plurality in its broadest sense. Pluralism is a theory of how political power is distributed in its more restricted sense. Instead of being centralized in a small number of hands, as the elitists assert, it maintains that power is widely and evenly distributed across society. When it takes this form, pluralism is typically viewed as a system of “group politics” in which people are primarily represented by their affiliation with organized groups and ethnic groups, and these groups have accessibility to the policy-making process.
  • Elitist – It pertains to a minority whose privilege, income, or power is unequally distributed among its members. A minority or elite should dominate, according to elitism. By Mosca, Michele, and Pareto, who created classical elitism, the elite rule was viewed as an unavoidable fact of social existence. A majority rule is how some people define democracy. The majority’s will is given priority under the majority rule practise. Majoritarianism denotes a lack of consideration for people and the marginalized.

In summary, various thinkers have varied interpretations of representative democracy. Pluralism, elitism, the new right, and marxism are the most significant of these views. Representative democracy is literally the best type of political organization, in the opinion of many political philosophers. Some contend that representational democracy, which is founded on the understanding of the inherent value and equality of all people, in the form of governance that best preserves human rights. Others contend that because democracy can draw on the collective wisdom and experience of a society’s whole population, it is the form of governance most likely to make logical decisions.

Difference between representative democracy and direct democracy 

Criteria for comparison Direct democracy Representative democracy 
Meaning Direct democracy is a type of democracy in which citizens collectively vote on laws and policies.Representative democracy is a form of governance in which the people of a nation elect the officials who will administer legislation and run the state on their behalf.
RepresentationIn a direct democracy, the electorate (voters) votes on the policy proposals without the use of legislative representatives as intermediaries, which means that the populace passes all laws and makes all political choices on their own.Meanwhile, in a representative democracy, the electorate chooses the representatives who will act on their behalf and enact legislation. Politicians and elected officials take office to serve their constituents’ interests.
TransparencyMore specific and transparent Less transparent
VotingPeople’s decisions are consistently upheld.The representative may disregard the people’s right to vote him out and continue in office when they want to do so.
SizeIt is viable only for small countries and communities.It is more viable for large countries, as there must be a sufficient number of people to represent the total population because nobody can hold office at the same time.
EfficiencyLess efficient More efficient 
ExamplesAthens and SwitzerlandUS, France, UK, and India

How does a representative democracy function

In a representative democracy, voters often choose representatives instead of directly voting on legislation. The policies and regulations of our nation are then developed, put forth, discussed, and decided upon by these representatives. They are expected to carry out their duties in a way they believe we would approve of. In other words, they speak for us. By giving these tasks to those whose job it is to be specialists in these subjects, we are relieved of the stress of needing to bone up on the intricacies of law and policy. Because direct democracy is simply too laborious and people are simply too engaged to make it work, representative democracy is so widely used today. Within representative democracies, nevertheless, there are still traces of direct democracy. Many people refer to Switzerland as a semi-direct democracy. Representatives are in charge of running the country on a day-to-day basis and taking decisions, but anybody can suggest constitutional amendments or ask for a referendum on any law.

Advantages and disadvantages of representative democracy 

The most common type of government is a representative democracy. As a result, it has advantages and disadvantages for both the people and the government.


  1. It is a very effective system of government when it is functioning properly. Representative democracy permits decisions to be taken by a group of elected people who can devote their whole attention to the decision-making process, as opposed to requiring everyone to vote on everything. Larger nations with complicated voting procedures frequently find that representative democracies are the better option. There are ways to speed up the process without having to wait for every voter to cast their ballot.
  2. People can still be heard. In a representative democracy, people lose their ability to directly affect policy, but their impact on the government is still felt. The public has the right to vote to have an elected official removed from office if they are not pleased with how they are doing their duties..
  3. Even those who don’t take part in politics can benefit from it. The decisions that are made by elected officials affect their entire area or region. The choices made by their representatives benefit everyone who resides in that area. Even those people who are not active in politics gain from this representation. For instance, even people who did not vote will gain if the representative aids in the passage of a measure that lowers taxes in that area.
  4. It is possible to impose restrictions on an elected official’s freedom of action. In a representative democracy, a district may vote to remove an elected individual who fails to live up to their anticipations through recall elections, other equivalent procedures, or other means.


  1. For this system of government to function, trust is necessary. The people must have faith that the representative they elect will try to represent them in the best interests of the people. If someone had a hidden purpose, they might campaign on one platform, win office as a representative, and then follow a completely other course.
  2. Things can still be challenging to complete. In a representative democracy, a clear majority is uncommon to have the last say. In most systems, there are numerous political parties, each of which has a distinct platform of objectives that it wants to continue. When those platforms clash, it causes a stalemate in the government and may prevent some work from getting done.
  3. Representatives may not always speak for all people. The notion that elected politicians in representative democracies are “out of touch” is a frequent criticism. This happens because a representative is required to be there when the government meets, which may be thousands of miles from the district where their people reside. It may also be challenging for one elector to serve the requirements of everyone in some communities or districts due to the widely diverse types of individuals that live there.
  4. It hinders involvement in various ways. People who live in representative democracies are aware that, whether or not they decide to vote, their interests will be represented in the government. Some people interpret this to mean that they decide not to cast a ballot because they are already represented in this way. Some people decide without voting because the candidates for office do not adequately represent their interests.

Alternatives to representative democracy

Representative democracies are commonly referred to as “indirect democracies” because there is no direct connection between voting and alterations to the law. They go about this directly by using their agents. Direct democracy is a better option. There is no intermediary representative to carry out the choice of the people in a direct democracy. Rather, laws are passed and amended by citizens directly through the ballot. Referendums are one way to witness this, but there are other instances of direct democracy that go too far. Because of the advantages listed above, those who prefer a democratic government to a republic typically choose the indirect strategy. There are two societies, nevertheless, that use the direct method more frequently.

The first transports us to the past. Similar procedures were utilized in Ancient Greece, where it was assumed that voters would cast ballots on all issues. This implied that every man above the age of 20 could vote on anything, even key laws and judicial decisions. Since there were no women, slaves, or immigrants voting, critics may point out the absence of majority representation in this case. But until quite recently, the same could be said for many contemporary indirect democracies. Any law passed by the elected legislative branch is subject to a public veto, which is the primary distinction in this case. Additionally, voters have the option to direct the government to consider amending the constitution.

Should representative democracy be the future of all countries

The majority of us would concur that democracy is the most equitable form of government, notwithstanding its flaws. It typically does the greatest job of upholding the principles that the majority of us share, such as equality, respect for human rights, and fair treatment under the law. And the optimal type of democracy to accomplish this is certainly representational democracy. Elections, during which voters can select the candidates and parties that represent them, nevertheless give the people ultimate authority over their government.

Democracy is the worst form of governance – except for all the others that have been tried,” Winston Churchill reportedly remarked. In a nutshell, it’s the best we can do. People can enjoy the benefits of representative democracy—having a say in how they are governed and selecting the people who will lead them—without having to bear the burden of independently researching every law or policy proposal. The majority of us don’t have the time or the desire to do this. Therefore, having elected officials who are responsible for knowing that information is beneficial. And if our elected officials aren’t doing a great job of this or aren’t looking out for our needs, we can decide to replace them. This implies that we continue to have a say in how our nation is run and the laws that govern us.


General, direct, impartial, confidential, and free elections are the internationally acknowledged principles of establishing representative democracy. Representative democracy developed at its own speed, accepting and then putting these ideas into practice. By persistently upholding popular sovereignty and international agreements that safeguard and uphold human rights and freedoms, these ideals have been put into action.


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