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Assessing the quality of democracy: a practical guide

David Beetham et al.(ed.)
Publication year: 
Source of the information: 
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance - IDEA
Increasingly, governmental, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organisations emphasise that democracy is an end in itself, as well as an important means to other ends, such as economic development, poverty reduction and greater protection of internationally recognised human rights. This guide seeks to provide a user-friendly knowledge resource for those seeking to improve the quality of their democracies.
The paper findings include:
  • There can be no ongoing popular control or influence over public decision-making unless people are able to speak their minds freely, debate openly with others, associate freely, receive and impart information without hindrance, and have the means and the confidence to undertake and share in these activities.
  • Democracy has spread and taken root in many parts of the world in the past three decades. While the performance and quality of these democracies differ, more people than ever before are governed by elected representatives, and various attempts to enumerate democracies in the world agree that more than 60 percent of all countries today have in place at least some form of minimal democratic institutions and procedures.
  • Regimes that have so far failed to usher in a democratic dispensation lack legitimacy, and citizens in such countries continue to demonstrate their aspirations for freedom, dignity and the opportunity to elect governments of their choice, through engagement in various forms of struggle, regardless of the risks they may encounter in doing so.
  • The democratic ideal in and of itself seeks to guarantee equality and basic freedoms; to empower ordinary people; to resolve disagreements through peaceful dialogue; to respect difference; and to bring about political and social renewal without convulsions.

The paper recommendations for improving the quality of democracy include:


  • A democracy assessment by citizens and residents of a country may be mobilised by government or external agencies only under strict safeguards of the independence of the assessment.
  • Only citizens and others who live in the country being assessed should carry out a democracy assessment, since only they can know from experience how their country’s history and culture shape its approach to democratic principles.
  • The process of democracy assessment should begin with a full account of those cultural, political and economic aspects of the country and its history that have to be taken into account in order to provide an intelligible context for understanding the character of its democratic condition.