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(This simplified version of the fourth chapter of Political Principles and their Practice in Sri Lanka, deals with principles of Representation and Devolution that may be of interest in developing structures that will fulfil democratic expectations in a new Constitution)

The Origins of Democracy

Democracy comes from two Greek words, ‘demos’ and ‘kratos’, which mean ‘people’ and ‘power’. Thus democracy means a political system in which power belongs to the people. Few people will disagree that this is the best system of government, since people who make up a State, and therefore the government of a State should be in the hands of its people. However numerous disagreements arise when we try to work out the best mechanisms through which the people can exercise their power of government.

Clearly people cannot all rule together. Therefore, in a democracy, some people have to rule on behalf of the rest. But choosing representatives of all can be a problem. Athens for instance, where democracy first established itself as a distinct system, found that when there were elections, the rich were chosen. They therefore instituted a system where those who exercised legislative or executive power each year were chosen by lot. This, they felt, led to a more truly representative government than choosing by election which benefited those with financial and other advantages.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2010
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