Representative government, also known as Indirect democracy, is defined as a government of elected representatives of the people. Those elected, through organised elections, rule on behalf of the people and with every assurance that their interests will be enhanced and protected. The system is based on accountability and responsibility of the political leaders. Elections into different positions in government are conducted periodically.
Features of Representative Government
- Free and fair elections: In every representative government, elections are conducted free and fair, devoid of any electoral malpractices.
- Periodic elections: Elections are conducted periodically. In some political systems, it could be every four or five years.
- Independent electoral commission: This body in charge of elections should be independent and impartial in the discharge of its functions.
- Free press: The press should be free so as to be able to disseminate information to the people on choice of candidates and political parties.
- Existence of law courts: People should have free access to the courts whenever they are aggrieved.
- Rule of law: The provisions of the constitution as well as laws of the land must be observed and obeyed by both the rulers and the ruled.
- Freedom of choice: The people should have free choice to make when deciding for political parties and candidates.
- Universal adult suffrage: All adult citizens must have the opportunity to vote and be voted for in any political election.
- Political education: This should be a must for the citizens. It will help them to know their rights especially political rights.
- Well defined electoral constituencies: This will promote efficiency in the elections and possibly help to detect electoral malpractices.
- Up – to – date electoral register: This exercise will help to remove fraud and names of dead registered voters.
CONDITIONS FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT
- Rule of law: There is the need for everybody, including the political leaders, to abide by the provisions of the constitution and respect for the laws of the land.
- Written constitution: Written constitution helps to specify the rules of the game as everything will be properly documented.
- The practice of multi-party system: The most acceptable party system that allows for equitable and proportional representation should be allowed to stay, e.g. multi – party system.
- Universal adult suffrage: Every qualified adult should be allowed to vote and be voted for in any political election.
- Independent and impartial judiciary: This institution should be free from undue interference and control from other arms of government, e.g. executive or legislature. Judges should be impartial in deciding cases. It is a condition for the establishment of a representative government.
- Fundamental human rights: These rights are necessary for a representative government and should be entrenched in the constitution. These essential rights are freedom of forming and joining any political association, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, press freedom, etc.
- An electoral process: An electoral process should be created with an independent electoral body charged completely with the affairs and administration of elections. This is a condition necessary for the establishment of representative government.
- People’s opinion: People’s opinion should be respected especially on issues of national importance. People should be free to criticise the government constructively.
Merits of Representative Government
- Choice of leaders: The opportunity is created for the people to choose political leaders without any hindrance.
- The system is simple to operate: It is easy to identify those responsible for the failure of government.
- It makes for stability: The government in place is legitimate and legally constituted.
- It allows for the people’s participation: The people are given the opportunity to take part in the decision-making of their country.It makes for an enduring democracy.
- Election is the yardstick: The government is set up through the normal electoral process.
- The elected leaders are accountable: The representatives are responsive and accountable to the electorate under this system.
- Rule of law: The administration is based on respect for the rule of law and obedience to the provisions of the constitution by the elected political leaders.
Demerits of a representative government
- No true Independence of the Judiciary: This is because judiciary may be under the control of the government in power.
- Rigging of elections: This is a big threat to a truly defined representative government. The electorate could be denied the choice made.
- Illiteracy: The inability of some voters to properly identify party names and symbols may lead to wrong choice of candidates.
- Divergent interests: A representative may not be a true representative. This is because different shades of interests in the society may not be represented.
- Selfish Interest: The representatives may not adequately represent their people or community due to some selfish interest.
- Corruption: It makes for corrupt practices among the politicians who may want to acquire power at all costs.
- Costly to run: Too much money, men, etc, are needed for a successful conduct of elections of this magnitude.
- Duplication of functions: This makes for a delay in the process of administration. Too many people are involved and have to be consulted on issues of national importance.
- General belief of the people: Some people see politics as a dirty game and this can scare away responsible and honest men from contesting in the elections.