Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley
The decision-making process about how a society should be ruled is known as politics. This process can involve elected politicians in a DEMOCRACY, or the unelected members of a ruling elite.
Political decisions affect people’s daily lives in two very important ways. They decide how much money the state will take from people in the form of taxes to spend on public projects such as healthcare, education, or defense. Political decisions also make the laws that affect people’s lives.
Political ideas alone do not change society, but when enough people with the same ideas form a PARTY, they can influence how society changes. Sometimes the process of change can be gradual; sometimes it comes from violent revolution, fueled by new political ideas. This happened in countries such as the United States, France, and Czarist Russia.
There are two main types of government: democratic and authoritarian. In democratic societies, adults have a role in shaping how their country is run, by voting in free elections for a political party. This is part of their CIVIL RIGHTS.
Democracy (from the Greek for “rule by the people”) is a way that people can choose their government from a range of political parties. In republics, or countries without monarchies, the electors vote for a head of state, or president, as well as the government.
There are two main types of democracy: presidential, where voters elect a president, who then appoints the government, such as in the US or France; and parliamentary, where voters directly elect the government of their choice, such as in the UK. Sometimes a president may rule yet represent a minority party.
Some political decisions are too important to be left to elected politicians. So the issue is decided on by all voters, normally with a simple yes or no answer to a direct question. Referendums are typically used for decisions that affect basic rights, or the sovereign (independent) status of a nation.
Citizens of democratic societies expect equal participation in political, social, and economic life. These freedoms are called civil rights. They are meant to guarantee that society is fair to everyone.
Sometimes laws that represent the will of the majority can restrict the freedom of others and exclude minorities from full political and social participation and threaten the idea of democracy. Civil rights protect the freedoms of all people within society.
Political parties are formed to represent different interests. These may be economic, social, or religious—each with its own ideas about how society should be ruled.
A new party is created when people who share common political beliefs feel unrepresented and decide to compete for political power. They choose a name for themselves and draw up a list of their ideas, called a platform, for voters to consider. Party members normally vote to choose their leader.