Citizens have an important role to play in a democracy
Citizens have the right to collectively choose their own governmental, political and electoral systems. The authority wielded by government, therefore, arises from the will of the citizens as expressed in their choice of systems and these same citizens have the right to participate in their government, not least through the holding of genuine elections that determine who can legitimately occupy governmental office.
It is important to remember that these general rules are incorporated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the modern constitutions within Europe and beyond. A democratic government is “of the people, from the people and for the people.” In essence, we should all be reminded that these rules actually mean that: governments belong to the people; the governmental processes belong to the people and the elections belong to the people.
It is a simple yet complex concept. There would be no democracy without the people’s commitment. This commitment is a right and responsibility of the citizens for a democracy to work, develop and be sustained.
The citizen’s commitment is manifested in tangible ways and serves to better people’s quality of life. The citizen’s commitment leads to economic, social, cultural and political development, including the provision of opportunities, resources, services and security.
For a democracy to function, citizens need to be informed about issues that affect their quality of life. They need to be able to work together to express their opinions and their preferences to ensure that the government takes the people’s opinions into account and in this way they can ensure that the Government acts responsibly and is accountable for its actions. To stay informed, the people need precise and timely information, particularly information that is held by Government. The citizens need to be able to find out from political players whether the politicians are ready to pass on such information for the good of the people.
Access to information is essential if the public is to be kept informed. Transparency is key to a democracy. The citizens, including the politicians, need to be free to express their opinion on governmental processes and public affairs; if not, citizens cannot be kept sufficiently informed and will not be able to make free and informed choices.
The obstacles to citizen participation are many in any country, including Malta. There are subtle and obvious, small and formidable obstacles created by a range of factors. These obstacles, whether they are based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age or any other factor, need to be eliminated if full citizenship is to be achieved. While they exist, our right to vote freely in elections is essentially denied and the credibility of the government is weakened.