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Democracy Watch's
Definition of a Democratic Society

Democracy Watch's mandate, 20 Steps towards a Modern, Working Democracy, and its position that the System is the Scandal, are based upon the following definition of a democratic society (Click here to see other organizations' definitions of the key elements needed for a democratic society):

A DEMOCRACY IS a society in which all adults have easily accessible, meaningful, and effective ways:

  1. to participate in the decision-making processes of every organization that makes decisions or takes actions that affect them, and;
  2. to hold other individuals, and those in these organizations who are responsible for making decisions and taking actions, fully accountable if their decisions or actions violate fundamental human rights, or are dishonest, unethical, unfair, secretive, inefficient, unrepresentative, unresponsive or irresponsible;
so that all organizations in the society are citizen-owned, citizen-controlled, and citizen-driven, and all individuals and organizations are held accountable for wrongdoing.

All children should also have easily accessible, meaningful, and effective ways to hold organizations accountable as set out in #2 above, but it is acceptable in a democracy to limit children's participation rights until they reach adulthood, mainly because psychological research has shown clearly that almost all children below a certain age do not have fully formed brains, and are not usually as capable of reasonable deliberation and discussion as adults.

The following participation and accountability measures need to be in place in every organization (both government and corporate, public and private) in any society to fulfill the definition set out above (and Democracy Watch's campaigns push governments and corporations to implement these measures):

  1. a constitution that sets out the essential operating rules for the organization (or the country, province/state, and municipalities), including strong protection of fundamental human rights, and a clear separation between every government institution and any religious entity;
  2. an election system for choosing representatives that is fair and results in a governing body that represents citizen votes accurately -- for details, go to the Voter Rights Campaign;
  3. a direct decision-making process (initiative and referendum, for example) that allows citizens to initiate decisions and actions on issues that their representatives refuse to address -- for details, go to the Voter Rights Campaign;
  4. strong requirements with no loopholes that apply to every organization (especially every government or government-funded institution, but also every corporate organization (especially large corporations -- for details, go to the Bank Accountability Campaign and the Corporate Responsibility Campaign), media,  non-profit citizen group, and charitable social service agency) in the areas of:
    • representativeness (elections, public consultation and direct decision-making processes that ensure true representation -- for details, go to the Voter Rights Campaign);
    • openness (disclosure requirements and access-to-information laws that ensure transparency -- for details, go to the Open Government Campaign);
    • honesty (including an honesty-in-politics law with an easily accessible complaint filing process -- for details, go to the  Honesty in Politics Campaign);
    • ethics (including ethics rules, and limits on donations and gifts of money, property and services and on other related ways of influencing decision-makers, and strict regulations on lobbyists -- for details, go to the Government Ethics Campaign and the Money in Politics Campaign), and;
    • spending rules (including strict waste-prevention measures), and responsiveness and responsibility in general operations (including publicly disclosed performance standards and regular performance reports -- for details, go to the Voter Rights Campaign) -- AND these requirements must also apply to every individual in their relationships with other individuals and with regard to their overall individual responsibility;
  5. to emphasize, the requirements must be strong enough and comprehensive enough to ensure that citizens not only own governments (as voters and taxpayers), corporations (as shareholders, workers and customers), unions and citizen groups (as members), and public resources (land, water, air, TV/radio airwaves, publicly generated research and infrastructure), but also that citizens effectively direct, control, and hold accountable governments, corporations, unions and other citizen groups, and public resources (See links for each issue area above under #4);
  6. watchdog agencies (including police) that are fully independent (from political or other biased influence), fully empowered (and required to investigate, rule publicly and penalize), and fully resourced (to ensure a high chance that violators will be caught) that strictly enforce the strong requirements in the areas of elections, public consultation and direct decision-making processes, access-to-information, honesty, ethics, spending, and general operations, and  strong requirements for individuals concerning relationships with other individuals and individual responsibility (See links for each issue area above under #4);
  7. courts/tribunals that are fully independent (from political or other biased influence), fully empowered (to investigate and penalize), fully resourced (to ensure justice is not unreasonable delayed) to handle disputes about rights and responsibilities in every other area of society (including protection of fundamental human rights) -- For details, go to the Voter Rights Campaign; and see links to other human rights groups listed on Democracy Watch's 20 Steps mandate page;
  8. a clear right for anyone to "blow the whistle" on any violation of any requirement, and to be protected from retaliation, and rewarded if the requirement violation is proven true (For details, go to the Government Ethics Campaign);
  9. a clear right for citizens to complain to the watchdog agencies, and to the courts/tribunals, if any requirement is violated, including the right to sue as a group (known as "class actions" -- See links for each issue area above under #4);
  10. penalties for the violation of requirements that are high enough to actually and effectively discourage violations of the requirements (See links for each issue area above under #4);
  11. every large organization (especially government and large corporations) required to assist the citizens affected by it to organize into, and sustain, a citizen group that will advocate for the interests of the citizens and help them hold the organization accountable (For details, go to the Citizen Association Campaign);
  12. easily accessible and independent means (TV, radio, print publications, Internet sites) for citizens to share key, accurate information with each other about every organizations' record in complying with the requirements set out above (For details, go to the Citizen Association Campaign, and also the OpenMedia.ca network of which Democracy Watch is a member);
  13. an economy large enough to finance the operation of all of the above organizations/investigative agencies/courts/citizen groups, and equitable enough so that every citizen (adults and children) has easy access to the above participation and accountability rights, and (For details, go to the Bank Accountability Campaign and the Corporate Responsibility Campaign, and also see links to human rights, labour and social equity groups listed on Democracy Watch's 20 Steps mandate page);
  14. enough people with the needed skills, knowledge and integrity to ensure that the operations of the above organizations and agencies, and participation and accountability rights, actually function well, along with an effective education system and high enough level of participation by citizens that they actually direct, control and hold accountable their governments and other organizations (For details, go to the Voter Rights Campaign and to the website of Democracy Education Network (Democracy Watch's charitable partner organization).
However, it is important to note that even if all 14 measures set out above are in place and functioning effectively, it is still essentially impossible to stop three key undemocratic activities, and as a result these three activities (even if they don't occur very often) will always remain a threat to all societies aspiring to be democracies, as follows:
  1. it is essentially impossible to stop secret gifts of money and favour-trading corrupting politicians and government officials;
  2. it is essentially impossible to stop secret lobbying of politicians and government officials and government secrecy overall, and;
  3. it is essentially impossible to stop police, security and armed forces from abusing their secret investigation powers by invading people's privacy and rights.
Copyright Democracy Watch 2011

International Definitions of Key Elements of a Democratic Society

  • Global Integrity (non-governmental organization that, through an international research effort involving local organizations, individuals and journalists, rates countries good governance and anti-corruption systems and democratic processes)
  • Inter-Parliamentary Union promotion of democracy resource page
  • June 2000 Warsaw Declaration of the Community of Democracies (PDF format, to see the Declaration in HTML format, click here) -- the Community of Democracies is a coalition of more than 100 countries initiated in 1999 with the common goal of strengthening democratic institutions and values at the national, regional, and global levels -- the Warsaw declaration resulted from the first meeting of the countries' governmental representatives in Warsaw Poland in June 2000, a plan of action was developed and endorsed by 95 countries at the 2nd meeting of the governments in Seoul, South Korea in November 2002, and the 4th meeting of governments was held in Bamako, Mali in November 2007)
  • Founding Statement of the World Movement for Democracy (the World Movement for Democracy is a network of non-governmental organizations, politicians, academics and others supporting the development of democracy world-wide)
  • The International Endowment for Democracy is a networking organization formed in spring 2006 in the U.S. to push for democratic reforms in the U.S.

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