A liberal democracy is a form of representative democracy in which elected representatives who hold power are limited by a constitution that emphasizes protecting individual liberties, equality and the rights of minority groups. Among the many liberties that might be protected are freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of religion, the right to private property and privacy as well as equality before the law and due process under the rule of law. Such constitutional rights, also called liberal rights, are guaranteed through various controlled institutions and statutory laws. Additionally, the constitutions of most contemporary liberal democracies prohibits majoritarianism, which is rule by the will of majority, when it harms those in the minority.
All liberal democracies are representative democracies, or governments in which representatives are elected by the people through free and fair elections. Some might, however, be constitutional monarchies or federal republics rather than full democracies. In a constitutional monarchy, the figurative head of the government is often determined by heredity, but members of the legislature and other officials, such as a prime minister, are elected by the people. In a federal republic, the national government's power is somewhat limited, and power also is divided among regional governments.
Systems of Referenda
Some liberal democracies have additional systems of referenda — or public votes on proposed measures — to give citizens who are eligible to vote the possibility to overrule the decisions of the elected legislature or even to make decisions without giving the legislature a say. The political systems in other countries have referenda to a lesser degree. The use of referenda in a liberal democracy's political system could help prevent it from evolving into an oligarchy.
Many people would argue that a liberal democracy isn't democratic or liberal. They would argue that a liberal democracy does not respect the will of the people except when citizens are asked to vote for their representatives, and that liberty is restricted by the constitution or by precedent. Critics would argue that, by denying citizens the right to cast votes on all issues — especially serious matters such as going to war or constitutional amendments — a liberal democracy is a precursor of an oligarchy, or a government that is controlled by the elite few. Others would say that only a liberal democracy can guarantee the individual liberties of its citizens and prevent the development into a dictatorship. Unmoderated majority rule could, in their view, lead to the oppression of various minority groups.