Theory of limited government and individual right sunder democracy.
In order for democracy to be effective or meaningful as ‘rule by the people’, there must be constitutional limits on government and constitutional guarantees of the civil and political rights of citizens. This will ensure, or at least encourage, freedom of expression, opinion, and publication, and the free, frequent and informed elections which are necessary for democracy to be other than a formal title.
David Held, Models of Democracy (Oxford, 1987)
Liberal democracy, also referred to as Western democracy, is a political ideology and a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of liberalism. It is characterised by elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, a market economy with private property, and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedoms for all people. To define the system in practice, liberal democracies often draw upon a constitution, either codified (such as in the United States) or uncodified (such as in the United Kingdom), to delineate the powers of government and enshrine the social contract. After a period of sustained expansion throughout the 20th century, liberal democracy became the predominant political system in the world.
A liberal democracy may take various constitutional forms as it may be a constitutional monarchy (such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom) or a republic (such as Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States). It may have a parliamentary system (such as Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Israel, Ireland, Italy, and the United Kingdom), a presidential system (such as South Korea and the United States) or a semi-presidential system (such as France, and Romania).
Liberal democracies usually have universal suffrage, granting all adult citizens the right to vote regardless of ethnicity, sex, property ownership, race, age, sexuality, gender, income, social status, or religion. However, historically some countries regarded as liberal democracies have had a more limited franchise. Even today, some countries considered to be liberal democracies do not have truly universal suffrage as those in the United Kingdom serving long prison sentences are unable to vote, a policy which has been ruled a human rights violation by the European Court of Human Rights. Many nations require positive identification before being allowed to vote. The decisions made through elections are made not by all of the citizens but rather by those who are members of the electorate and who choose to participate by voting.
The liberal democratic constitution defines the democratic character of the state. The purpose of a constitution is often seen as a limit on the authority of the government. Liberal democracy emphasises the separation of powers, an independent judiciary and a system of checks and balances between branches of government. Liberal democracies are likely to emphasise the importance of the state being a Rechtsstaat, i.e. a state that follows the principle of rule of law. Governmental authority is legitimately exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedure. Many democracies use federalism, also known as vertical separation of powers, in order to prevent abuse and increase public input by dividing governing powers between municipal, provincial and national governments (e.g. Germany, where the federal government assumes the main legislative responsibilities and the federated Länder assume many executive tasks).