Apart from democratic republics, where a democratic republic is defined as a country that is effectively 'rule of the many', mostly through elected representatives, there any other types of governments that elect representatives?

If so, whom do these elected representatives represent in practice?

As the source qualifies, a democratic republic need not have universal suffrage (and can place restrictions on who can vote, such as by age, citizenship, criminal status, etc) so a type of government without universal suffrage may still be a democratic republic and will not be a valid answer for other types of governments.

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    Please carefully and clearly define what you mean by "democracy". You may find that the answer to your question is tautologically "no", if you end up defining "democracy" as any system of government in which representatives are elected. Jul 12, 2022 at 0:06
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    Questions are supposed to show research effort, and this one badly needs clarification. What are you counting as a democracy, and why.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 12, 2022 at 6:00
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    Vatican is an example of elective monarchy. What really defines democracy is not the elections, by the accountability of the elected officials (via possible re-election, recall, etc.) Jul 12, 2022 at 7:59
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    This question about the People's Republic of China is about an example.
    – Philipp
    Jul 12, 2022 at 10:58
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    There are nine constitutional monarchies in Europe, would you include these in your definition of a 'republic'? Jul 13, 2022 at 16:33

6 Answers 6


I'm going to go off the dictionary definition of "democracy" as "a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives." The simple answer is that, yes, many non-democracies hold elections for representatives. It's simply that some aspects of that definition are qualified.

A not uncommon feature of autocracies is regular elections that do not actually imperil the ruling autocrat. These are usually not what liberal democracies would consider "free and fair" elections, due to issues like laws restricting party membership, state control over the media, informal repression, etc. But they often are real elections in which the people actually do select a representative, and opposition parties win some share of the seats. Russia and Venezuela are two of the commonly-cited examples of this model.

Oligarchies also hold elections for representatives, but the voting pool is not the "whole population." The line between oligarchy and democracy can be a thin one, but one uncontroversial example would be apartheid South Africa.


While I do not know if the system is still in use anywhere, historycally elective monarchies did vote the new king/queen. They were no democracies because:

  • Usually the electoral body would have been just the nobility.

  • The candidates available were very restricted, usually needing a familiar connection to the previous monarch or at least to be part of a recognized royal family.

  • The position was for life, there was no legal way to get rid of a monarch if he displeased his subjects.

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    I believe this is still how Saudi Arabia operates; members of the royal family (of which there are thousands) vote for the new king when the old one dies. Could make the case the Vatican qualifies as well. Jul 12, 2022 at 13:08
  • @tenthjustice, this is definitely not correct. The king still chooses his heir (who automatically becomes king when the prior one dies). There was a committee formed in 2007 to pick the heir (while the king is still living) but this committee is purely decorative as the only time it had a real function (the chosen heir died in 2011), the king picked the heir as normal and they went along with it. A year later, the crown prince was changed to Salman (the current king) and the council wasn't even consulted. In 2015, they did approve MBS as the new crown prince, but he was handpicked by the king.
    – uberhaxed
    Jul 12, 2022 at 19:33

In general terms, I think the answer is "No".

Note: For the sake of simplicity, when I say "elected" in this answer I mean "directly elected by the people in free and fair election".

A democracy is defined as a system in which the government derives its authority from the will of the people.

If we follow this principle, a system that is non-democratic would be definitionally without popularly elected representatitves. Even if there is an elected representative in a non-democratic system, the election process would either be severely compromised (i.e. Russia) or the representatives would have no meaningful influence on the government (i.e. Hong Kong), in which case their function is purely decorative.

There are one-party states such as China where the head of state is technically elected by the party congress. But since the party congress is not elected by popular vote, I'm not sure if the representative counts as "elected" so much as "selected".


As @charlie-evans mentioned, it depends how you define Democracy.

To the ancient Athenian philosopher Plato, Democracy meant a state where everyone had equal power. He predicted the inevitable collapse of such a society as pleasure and freedom where put ahead of responsibility and doing what's necessary.

His ideal form of government is translated as "Aristocracy", but you might think of it more as "Meritocracy". A society where the best, most competent, and noblest of spirit (not birth) rule.

Plato's "Republic"

To answer the question more directly:

There are one party systems which elect representatives. e.g. in Vietnam, representatives are elected but only representatives from the Communist party are allowed to run.


EDIT: Vietnam actually does allow some independents to run for election, but no other parties are allowed to exist.


Sure. For example, a communal village often has a village chief that was selected by the majority of the inhabitants (by definition, a democratic election). In this case, the village chief is the "head of state" (state being the village) and represents the village (e.g. to a feudal lord such as a baron or daimyo).

Everyone seems to make up their own definition of democracy (and other governments) but since it's well known, I'll use Machiavelli's definitions. Machiavelli defines any state as a republic, but differentiates between rule of the one (monarchy), rule of the few (aristocracy), and rule of the many (democracy). In all three cases, he does emphasize that you can have both an unelected head and an elected head, so the method of choosing your leader does not make one a democracy or not.

This of course is obvious. Prior to World War II, nationalist parties were legitimately voted in and transitioned to a monarchal form. You can see easy examples with with Stalin, Mussolini, and yes, Hitler.

Machiavelli often uses the Roman Republic as an example when speaking about republics with elected representatives. The Roman Republic had a diarchy: that is to say that every year they elected two people (consuls) to lead the nation. They, in this case, being the senatorial class. However, if you argue that excluding some segment of the population from a vote makes it not a democracy, then no nation was ever a democracy. Non-citizens, non-humans, infants, toddlers, other children, slaves, etc. could not (and can not) vote. The consuls represented the people of Rome (take that any way you wish).

Another example, coincidentally contemporaneous with Machiavelli, is the Holy Roman Empire (no relation to the Roman Empire). It was more of a confederacy, a collection of sovereign states, each with their own monarchs. The aristocrats would come together every few years to select the Holy Roman Emperor by majority vote (by definition, a democratic election). Sure, the emperor is similarly elected by his peers, but in no democracy is everyone eligible for office. For example, no country allows a 4 year old to be president (however, monarchies do allow 4 year olds to be sovereign).

Another example is a diocese, or ecclesiastical district. A bishopric is, as the name implies, headed by a bishop. In Eastern Catholic churches, bishops (who are monarchs in a diocese) are elected. Similarly for Catholicism in general, the papacy is also an elected position (one again, bishops choosing from among their peers). Bishops (which include the pope) represent the catholic institution. Since bishops were historically monarchs, this also makes the Catholic church an institution similar to the mechanisms of the (contemporaneous) Holy Roman Empire, where monarchs already in a hierarchy elect a top level monarch amongst themselves each time the previous one dies.

A common theme you may see is that people, such as those with political power, will select a leader from amongst themselves, not including the rest of the population. But you will realize that this is fundamentally identical to the selection a prime minister. Thus, if you accept that a parliamentary system is democratic, then you much also logically accept that these historical systems were also democratic. One can make the parallel that one must amass political power to be a party member in parliament (that is to say, a layman member of the population cannot join parliament) in the same way that one must amass political power in the Roman senate. The differences between the Roman senate, the aristocrats of medieval Europe, and the clergy of Christianity is the path one takes to acquire political power, whether by economic wit, military success, or piety. Similarly, those in modern systems often chose rhetoric as a way to acquire political power.

As a bonus, the French Republic (that is, the country that was in the area of modern France post French Revolution, just after the Directory Government, which followed the Reign of Terror) elected three consuls (a triarchy). While this was bound to fail (following the Roman Empire's example of a tetrarchy with four emperors) because it is inherently unstable, it failed anyway because Napoleon decided to follow the route of Julius Caesar (almost verbatim): eliminating the other consuls (his other political rivals, which were also called consuls), declaring himself consul for life (well, technically Caesar became dictator, a different political office in Rome, for life), and becoming a dictator (although Caesar became a dictator through legitimate means and was appointed). No system, even that which the leaders are elected from the populace, is immune to descent into tyranny. Although Machiavelli proses that monarchy descends to tyranny, aristocracy descends to oligarchy, and democracy descends to anarchy.


There is a ton of literature on what democracy is, with many complex and sometimes vague definitions that go well beyond merely holding elections. At some point, getting hung up on definitions isn't very productive so a question that starts with "apart from democracy" may not be as meaningful as it seems.

One important thing to consider is that nearly every country in the world holds elections for national office nowadays, either for the head of state or some sort of parliament (Brunei is a notorious exception and there could be a handful of others, but not many). Does that mean every country in the world is democratic? The concept would not be very useful, except perhaps in a historical sense.

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