The purest form is direct democracy in which all citizens are allowed to influence policy by means of a direct vote, or referendum, on any issue of governance. Elements of direct democracy can exist on a local level, and on exceptions on national level, in countries which embrace the concept.
The more common form of indirect democracy refers to a system of governance by the people through the proxy of elected representatives, leaders and representatives who are ideally democratically selected without resort to gerrymandering or similar perverse inventions. Edmund Burke's Principle states that representatives should act upon their own conscience in the affairs of a representative democracy. Problems surface when those "elected" representatives are inclined to follow the party line on issues, rather than either the will of their conscience or constituents.
Universal elements considered essential to democracy include freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, so that all citizens have equal access to information and do not feel intimidated to vote according to their own best interests as they see fit. It was a much younger Lee Kuan Yew who once presented it this way (Hansard, April 27, 1955):
"If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally. If you believe that men should be free, then, they should have the right of free association, of free speech, of free publication. Then, no law should permit those democratic processes to be set at nought, and no excuse, whether of security, inconvenience to traffic, or inconvenience to police officers, should allow a government to be deterred from doing what it knows to be right, and what is must know to be right."
It was disturbing therefore, to read PM Lee's advice in support of Desmond Choo, "The voters in Hougang should consider carefully, not blindly, but carefully who is the best candidate, who can best represent them well, who will work best for them and has the strongest backing and look after them and that is the way democracy is meant to work." The subtle nuance that the power of the people should surrender to the accumulated power of the political party is not missed. That was how Hitler played the game with his Brown Shirts, the "Sturmabteilung" who snuffed out his Social Democrats and Communists opponents by sheer political organisation. From the perspective of an ex-general, it must be tempting to subscribe to the Mao doctrine, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Has it finally come down to this?
When Lee Kuan Yew was at a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' meeting in London, he observed that two young colonels were representing the Nigerian and Ghana governments. This is what he told the University of Singapore Society afterwards on 7 October 1966: "Pray that my successor will be an economist. Then you have a future."