Democracy means government, or rule, by the people themselves - rule by the many, as distinct from the rule of one (monarchy), or several (aristocracy). It means rule by all of the people, whatever their status or wealth.
Unless the people agree, any government is in principle an unjustifiable interference with their freedom.
Democrats believe that people can, or can learn to, govern themselves. Cynics say the people are too silly, or too selfish to be given such responsibility. The rule of the many can become mob rule or the tyranny of the majority: where the rights and needs of a vulnerable or powerless minority can be overwhelmed. What prevents this is the culture of the community; its values, including the rule of law; but most of all, the quality of its citizens. A test of good government is finding an active, interested, involved group of citizens: people who are willing to give up small freedoms and to do things for one another and for their community, not because they hope to make a profit or exploit someone else's weakness, but for the common good.
Good government, on this model, depends on a culture of consensus, tolerance, mutual respect, relative equality, relative peace and the rule of law - that is, a fundamental understanding that everyone is equal before the law.
The quality of democracy also depends on every citizen having a vote ('universal suffrage') of equal value.
Not all voters have equal voices. Not all voting is fair. In some countries, 'votes' are invented, or destroyed. In others, those who control the armed forces or who claim to have a direct line to God, make the decisions.
World-wide, even in nations with 'democratic' constitutions and beautifully-worded guarantees of individual rights and political freedoms, many governments are military-style - in Libya, Nigeria, Zaire, Myanmar for example. Others are monarchical or theocratic - Oman, Morocco, Bhutan. Quite a few western-style democracies have recently experienced coups or military rule - Fiji, Chile, and Argentina, for example. There are one-party or monarchical regimes in countries from Cuba to China. Many nations operate under 'emergency' powers that take away political and personal freedoms. This action is 'justified' by the threat, real or perceived, of civil disorder.
If civil rights and individual freedoms may be taken away or violated by governments that are not in practice accountable to the people, that government is fundamentally illegitimate. There is no rule of law.
Democratic government - where the people participate in their own government - recognises individual rights. It also recognises that being a civil society means choosing to give some of our liberties up, on the condition that we are constantly consulted on how we are ruled.