Democratic government is characterised by the separation of powers.
There are ‘checks and balances’ within our political system that limit the power of each branch in order to prevent the abuse of power. This system divides the state into three branches – the legislative, executive and judicial branch – and gives each the power to fulfill different tasks. These branches are also known as the ‘organs of government’. Tasks are assigned to the different branches and their institutions in such a way that each of them can check the exercise of powers by the others. As a result, no one branch or institution can become so powerful as to control the system completely.
The separation of powers is important because it provides a vital system of ‘checks and balances’:
Firstly, it ensures that the different branches control each other. This is intended to make them accountable to each other – these are the ‘checks’;
Secondly, the separation of powers divides power between the different branches of government – these are the ‘balances’. Balance aims to ensure that no individual or group of people in government is ‘all powerful’. Power is shared and not concentrated in one branch.
That is why we also often refer to the ‘separation and balance of powers’. The main purpose of the separation of powers is therefore to prevent the abuse of power.
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