Representative government refers to a government where the people participate in choosing through periodic, free and fair elections, those that would govern them. It is a democratic government in which the citizens elect representatives who act as their agents in law making and implementation.
Features and conditions necessary for the establishment of representative government
1. Independent electoral commission: An independent electoral commission, comprising competent electoral officers, is necessary for the establishment of representative government. Such a commission should be given responsibility for conducting free and fair elections, devoid of electoral malpractices.
2. Up-to-date electoral register: An up-to-date, regularly revised electoral register should be provided for voters.
3. Well-informed electorate: One of the features of representative government is a politically conscious, intelligent electorate.
4. Properly defined electoral constituencies: Electoral districts or constituencies should be properly delimited to ensure equitable representation of the people.
5. Periodic elections: Elections should be held from time to time to enable the electorate to renew the mandate of the current representative, or replace them with new representatives.
6. Independent judiciary: There should be an effective, independent judiciary which is free from executive and legislative control, so as to be able to try any election cases impartially. Citizens should also be free to challenge the decision of the electoral body in court.
7. Press freedom: There should be press freedom so that the policies and programmes of the competing parties and candidates could be freely publicised.
8. Accountability: Representative government would be sustained if elected officials are responsive and accountable to the people that voted them into power.
Advantages of Representative Government
1. Establishment of democracy: Representative government affords citizens the opportunity of voting in the political parties and candidates of their choice during elections.
2. Accountability: Representative government helps to ensure that people‘s representatives are accountable, responsive and responsible to the electorate.
3. Rule of law: This system of government tends to uphold the rule of law and guarantee fundamental human rights more than other systems.
4. Tolerance of opposition: This form of government is more likely to tolerate the views and suggestions of opposition groups, because members of the opposition are also members of parliament.
5. Press freedom: Representative government allows greater press freedom, which enables even the representatives themselves to publicize their policies and programmes to the people.
Disadvantages of Representative Government
1. Representative government recognizes the existence of political parties that compete to control the machinery of government. The struggle to control government institutions sometimes leads to instability of the government.
2. Representative government involves the risk of handing over the fate of all the citizens to a small group of people in government. This is because it is not easy for an individual to adequately represent the many opinions and interests of the people in a particular constituency.
3. Representative government has the capacity to foster electoral malpractices because the competing parties sometimes employ illegal means to capture political power.
4. In representative government, the best candidates often lose elections. Instead, unpopular candidates and political parties that can skillfully manipulate the electoral process in their favour, get elected.
5. The ruling party in representative government may, to the disadvantage of other parties, create additional constituencies in areas they are likely to be favoured during future elections. (This practice is known as gerrymandering.)