Understanding Democracy: Political Systems and Power

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A political system in which people choose their leaders by voting for them.

  • Freedom: Is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants. (Es el poder o el derecho de actuar, hablar o pensar como uno quiera.)
  • Power of division: The political power is divided to avoid having a single group that governs: Legislative, executive, judicial. (El poder político se divide para evitar tener un solo grupo que gobierne: Legislativo, Ejecutivo, Judicial.)
  • Equality: We are all equal under the law. The state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities. (Todos somos iguales ante la ley. El estado de ser igual, especialmente en estatus, derechos u oportunidades.)
  • Representative:  People take part in politics by voting for their representative. (La gente participa en las elecciones votando a su representante.)


  • Head of state: King/Queen (is not elected by people) Represents the nation 
  • Head of government: President (is elected by people) Runs the country on a day-to-day basis.


  • Head of state: President (elected by people) Represents the nation  
  • Head of government: Prime minister (elected by people) Runs the country on a day-to-day basis. 


  • Centralized: A single government decides everything rules.
  • Decentralized: The central government makes some decisions whereas some other issues are in charge of federal states or autonomous regions.

FEDERAL STATE: The president is in charge of foreign policy or security but all the other issues (even topics like the death penalty) are decided in each state independently

  • What is the difference between a centralized country and a federal country? In a Centralized country a single government decides everything rules and in a federal country the central government makes some decisions whereas some other issues are in charge of federal states or autonomous regions.


What are the political powers?

Head of state 

  • Represented by which institution? The monarchy / the crown
  • Which functions do they have? They have to represent their country

Executive power/branch (GOVERNMENT)

  • Represented by which institution? 

    The government (Head of government + ministers) 

  • Which functions do they have? To enforce the law 

Legislative power/branch (PARLIAMENT)

  • Represented by which institution? Parliament (cortes generales) Congress and senate 
  • Which functions do they have? Write/pass laws 

Judicial power/branch

  • Represented by which institution? Judges
  • Which functions do they have? They apply the law  


  • Constitution: The Constitution of Spain of 1978 defines Spain as a parliamentary monarchy, forbids an official religion, outlaws the death penalty, fixes the voting age at 18, and begins the process of regional devolution.
  • Dictatorship: The political system where the authority rules without limits. 
  • Oligarchy: The political system where the power is controlled by a small group.
  • Republic: The political system where the head of state is elected.
  • Monarchy: The political system where the head of state is a king or a queen.


  • Political party (partido politico)
  • Political power: legislative, executive, judiciary

  • To rule a country (governar un pais)
  • To write a law (Escribir una ley)
  • To pass a law (Aprobar una ley)
  • To obey the law (Obedecer la ley)
  • To enforce the law (Para hacer cumplir la ley)
  • Head of state/ government: king/queen, president, prime minister

  • Ministers (Ministros)
  • Mayor (Alcalde)
  • Councillor (Concejal)
  • Judge (Juez)
  • Politicians (Politicos)
  • Citizen (Ciudadano)
  • Parliament: congress/senate Parlamento: congreso/senado)
  • Government (Gobierno)
  • Town council (Ayuntamiento de la ciudad)
  • Representative (Representante)
  • Constitution (Constitucion)
  • To be in charge of (Estar a cargo de)
  • To consist of (Consiste en)
  • To belong to (Pertenecer a)


  • Informal (are part of society): family, music groups, friends
    • They use rules: normally oral, aim: welfare and coexistence (bienestar y convivencia)
  • Formal: (are part of the political-system): town council, parliament, European parliament
    • They write laws with different aims: Social responsibility, maintain order, respect human rights.


  • Democratic: It is a form of social organization that attributes the ownership of power to all citizens. (Es una forma de organización social que atribuye la propiedad del poder a todos los ciudadanos.)
  • Non-democratic: Political system that does not meet the minimum requirements. (Sistema político que no cumple con los requisitos mínimos)


The main difference is the power vested in the common people. (La principal diferencia es el poder conferido a la gente común.)

  • Democratic government: All citizens are able to vote, equal, the leader can be replaced
  • Non-democratic government: Citizens are not in control, the leader is not restricted by laws.

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