The best way to define democracy is a political system in which all citizens are capable of voting for leaders to represent their interests or voting for interests directly.
While democracy in practice may very well be impossible according to Philippe Schmitter and Terry Karl, it seems that a democracy should ultimately have the government be accountable to the people. Indeed, for Schmitter and Karl, “modern political democracy is a system of governance in which rulers are held accountable for their actions in the public realm by citizens” (Journal of Democracy). I would argue that their claim “democracies depend upon the presence of rulers, persons who occupy specialized authority roles and can give legitimate commands to others” (Journal of Democracy) overlooks the possibility of direct democracy, in which people vote directly for policy. Without representatives, they claim that “(i)t is doubtful that any democracy could survive” and that the existence of a “political elite… or professional political class” cannot even be up for debate (Journal of Democracy). Their definition of democracy, while it is acceptable, it is ultimately not broad enough.
In Polyarchy, Robert Dahl argues that for a true democracy, a citizen must be able to: “formulate their preferences,” “signify their preferences” and “have their preferences weighed equally in the conduct of the government” (Polyarchy). This seems to be a better way to define democracy: it leaves the door more open to a different sort of democracy, such as without representatives. Yet Tunisia, despite the nation’s new status as a democracy, which does not seem to be disputed (Stephen) the fact that the new government seems heavily corrupt, likely against the wishes of its people, suggests that his definition may be flawed as well: perhaps it is possible to have a democracy that can change leaders, but the citizens’ wishes do not necessarily have priority, and the status quo can remain undisturbed. Regardless, it seems that the best way to define democracy is broadly: a political system in which citizens are capable of voting for leaders to represent them or to vote for their interests directly: even if this does not always work out in practice.
“Polyarchy Participation and Opposition” by Robert A. Dahl
“What Democracy Is… and is Not” by Philippe C. Schmitter and Terry Lynn Karl
Tunisian article: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/11/attacks-state-tunisia-truth-commission-crisis-democracy by Chris Stephen