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Representative democracy is the most common form of democracy.
What is being represented
Representing a district
It is generally understood that what is being represented in a representative democracy, is a district, a portion of the national territory, or, more precisely, the people who live within that district.
Many of our modern democracies were set up centuries ago, when news and people took days or even weeks to travel back and forth between the central government or the capital, and the most remote provinces. Thus it was practical for people from a region to appoint one of their own to travel to the capital to represent them. Today's needs are different. With fast travel and instant global news and 24h news channel, voting for representatives to a legislature are done more on national issues than on regional representation.
There has thus been a shift for candidates to present themselves as a representative of a party and of an ideology.
Representing a party
Although officially elected to represent a district, legislators in practice really represent a political party. First, the party affiliation in clearly noted on the ballot, and citizens often vote accordingly. Secondly, political parties often impose a certain amount of discipline, with a whip being appointed to enforce it. Legislators are not always free to vote as they wish: their party often impose on them to vote a certain way.
Legislators and speciality
Legislators are currently not elected because they are specialists and have an in-depth understanding of a certain topic. They are called upon to draft laws and vote on bills that cover a very wide range of topics and specialities. At best, legislators only represent a generic ideology, that of their party.
The electoral process
The nature of a representative democracy is greatly affected by several factors such as the election method used to select the representatives of the people, and the role of the political parties and the media in the whole process. If we want to improve our representative democracies, we need to take into account each of those factors.
The most common way to select representative is at the ballot box, during officially organized elections. Practical Democracy is a proposed alternative solution, where representatives are not selected in a single, country-wide (or electoral district-wide) election, but by a series of small scale meetings organized in rounds with the aim to select the persons the best able to run the country (state, region, city, etc.) for the common good.
Our challenge as citizens is to promote the best selection method so that we can select the best people for the job.
- Wikipedia: Representative democracy.