When you think of the word "democracy", the ideas that come to mind are similar to majority rule; decisions made by the people; more than 60 % of voting results decide; leaders do that which the people want and need done; etc etc - correct? I find it interesting, then, that in most countries the turnout of voters is nowhere near the total voting age population (the number of people eligible to vote).
If a country's leaders and future is being decided by only half of the population, can that country still be described as a democracy? There are a few countries that have a high turnout of eligible voters, some of which have laws making voting compulsory for those people who are eligible to vote and other countries have a high rate of political participation. There are success stories and failure stories in both of these types, but that is irrelevant to this particular moment.
Go to this website to see the available data on the voting histories of the world. As you will see, the percentage of voters who are eligible to vote who actually do range from anything to only a few percent to the high 90's.
Let's take USA as an example of questionable democracy. 50 - 60% of the eligible voting population actually votes in the presidential elections. Parliamentary election turnouts are even lower. The US political system then gets a bit weird. Apparently the politicians must be approached by lobbyists as representatives of the people's wants and needs (representatives of interest groups) - but what actually happens is that the big corporations are the ones dominating all the lobbying activities as they are the ones with the deepest pockets. These interest groups also happen to be the major funders of the political parties. This brings us to another interesting aspect about the American political system: Presidential candidates spend millions on their campaigns, trying to win over the few people who actually vote. I would wager that a large number of these voters make their choice based on how much they "like" a candidate - so it's not so much about choosing the right person for the job as it is about choosing the nice person for the job - and even that is manufactured. The candidate is whatever the press makes of him/her and however they choose to present themselves - it doesn't mean that they are presenting "who they really are", but rather that they are presenting who people want them to be so that people will vote for them.
The South African political system is a little simpler in its corruption. The key to gaining political power in SA is familial ties to people in power and the willingness to use public opinion as a weapon against certain groups to gain followers. It also doesn't hurt if you're a good public speaker who is able to ignite the passions of people and play on their emotions. Our voter turnout is about the same as America.
Are the examples above consistent with what you believe democracy means? Either our definition of the word is wrong or our application of the word is wrong. I think that it's the latter, but who am I to refute the validity of so many democracies across the globe? Just a skinny blonde girl with idealistic plans and a pessimistic view of the human condition.
With all of this in mind, how is it possible that any government is actually doing what the people want or need? Who is really leading the countries then?