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POLITICS

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.

HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT, LONDON

In the UK, government is divided into three distinct areas: Parliament writes and passes laws; the judiciary ensures that the laws are applied fairly; and the Cabinet and civil service carry out the laws.

WHY DO PEOPLE CARE ABOUT POLITICS?

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.

CAN POLITICS CHANGE SOCIETY?

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.

DOES EVERYONE HAVE A SAY?

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

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.

HOW MANY TYPES OF DEMOCRACY ARE THERE?

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.

WHAT IS A REFERENDUM?

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.

CIVIL RIGHTS

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.

DO DEMOCRACIES NEED CIVIL RIGHTS?

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.

BIOGRAPHY: MARTIN LUTHER KING American, 1929–1968

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” In the 1950s and 1960s, King campaigned against racial injustice and for civil rights for all black Americans.

PARTY

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.

HOW ARE POLITICAL PARTIES CREATED?

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.

Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley

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