Elections are held in a majority of the world's countries, ranging from Venezuela & Iran to Germany, Russia, & Britain, the United States, but does that mean the people have a true input to the political process? Not necessarily. For the most part, the rest of the world has some type of parliamentary system as opposed to the US Congress, and the current government in the US is very different than the intent of the US Constitution.
In the American system, the people vote for a person, to represent their district, first as a representative of a party against the people selected by other voters for the other parties, and then between those running for that office of various parties and independents with no party affiliation. Rarely does the political party itself choose the politician that will run for that office, but on occasion it does occur, such as in the special election of the New York 26th District in 2011 which was held when the serving Representative resigned.
In the parliamentary system, the parties choose the politicians who will hold the seats, if the party wins it. In most parliamentary systems, voters cast a ballot for an individual and for a party. Whereas, in the United States, the politician getting the most votes, regardless of party or how many parties get how many other votes, gets the seat. In the parliamentary system, a party getting a minimum percentage (usually about 5%) of the vote is given seats in parliament, even if they lost in every district.
Parliaments have various degrees of authority in various systems, ranging from an advisory board to the executive to the selectors of the executive (Prime Minister). Some have a type of legislative authority and others don't.
Citizens elect "Representatives" to the House, who are supposed to vote for or against legislation and budgetary items based on the will and interests of that district. They are supposed to be representative of the people of that State & District. The House of Representatives has the Constitutional responsibility to determine levels of taxation and spending.
"All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills." Article 1, Section 7
If the legislative branch of the United States were a parliamentary system, the Constitutionalists, Libertarian, Green, Socialist, & Communist Parties would likely have members in the House, though I know of no election that those parties received a majority of votes. In a parliamentary system, those minor parties would then form a coalition to support and get favors from the primary parties. Using international trends and US political realities, we would likely see the Green, Socialist, & Communist parties allying with the Democrats to the needs of the DNC to form a government, while the Constitutionalists and Taypayer parties allied with the RNC to do the same. The Libertarian party with Ron Paul as "standard bearer" would likely play the wild card playing each party for the greatest gain in power, in close divides. In years where the DNC or RNC gained substantial seats, they would offer less or collude with fewer parties to maintain absolute power of the coalition government.
In a parliamentary system, it is common that a single party doesn't receive the majority of seats, and when the results are known, the parties scramble to put together a coalition that will support the election by parliament of the Prime Minister. The winning coalition then controls the reins of government and the political parties and politicians of them that are not part of it are basically left with the sole option of complaining about what the coalition of winning parties is doing. It affords only for a government of one type or the opposite, not one of opposing parties having a say in laws and governmental operations.
In 2010 elections in Iraq for example, the party getting the most votes was unable to form a majority coalition while Nouri al-Maliki's party secured the support of Moqtada al-Sadr's Iranian backed party in order to "form the government. While more Iraqis voted for a secular government, they ended up with a Shi'a based Islamist leaning government. Iraqis supporting a government based on non-religious law, for all intents and purposes, have no say in their government.
In the United States, we have a President, who is given the responsibility of presiding over the day to day affairs of the Nation, in accordance with the US Constitution, and the authorities granted him by Congress. Constitutionally, he does not have the authority to increase taxes on his own authority, to increase fees on services, or to order the States to do things he wants done. His job is to ensure the day to day business of the Nation is completed.
The Vice-President has the responsibility of presiding over the Senate, i.e. making sure it runs according to the interests of the Nation when in session. Originally, the Senate was made up of Senators selected by State Governments, which were in turn elected by the people.
The United STATES does not have provinces, but States, because the authority of government derives from the people to the government, State is another term for Nation, as in "the Sovereign State of Italy" rather than the Province of Otawa. The difference is substantial. The Founding Fathers recognized the State Governments as the authority for Governance, and united for a Common Defense.
This is why the State of Massachusetts has the authority to force its citizens to buy Health Insurance, but the Federal government does not have the authority to force Americans to do so. It is why the State of California determines what is required for a High School Diploma, and the US Department of Education does not have a single student at a single school, because it has no schools.
In other countries, the provinces must comply with the dictates of the national government, because they are subservient to the national government. It is demonstrated in such things as the way Police forces are set up. Most other nations have a National Police force assigned to local levels, whereas the United States have City Police, County Sheriff Departments, and State Troopers, of diminishing numbers at higher levels of government, but not a National Police Force. Federal Law Enforcement is very limited, primarily as an investigative force, with authority derived primarily from the common defense against invasion or the regulatory statutes of interstate commerce and taxation.
Often we hear of political parties in foreign nations described as "liberal" or "conservative," "left wing" or "right wing," but these terms rarely translate into the same concepts of the American people. The Nazi government for example, is often referred to as a right wing party, but could not be described as either liberal or conservative, legitimately. The Socialist Party of Germany, of that day and today, is often described as "left wing," but NAZI is an acronym for the Nationalist Socialist Party (of Germany). In a parliamentary system, it gained power with a minority of the votes. It formed a "coalition government" in part, because Stalinist Russia ordered the Communist Party of Germany to support the Nazi's over the "more liberal" Socialist Party in the 1930's.
Compared to the Communists, both of the Socialist Parties of 1930's Germany were "right wing" and "more liberal." Compared to the SPD, the National Socialist Party was "less liberal." None of them however were true liberals, and in modern America, there are few true liberals. Historically, "Liberal" politics mean support for a liberal policy of rights of the people, and hence small government. In modern politics, the definition has been turned on its head, with Libertarian replacing Liberal in the modern political dictionary.
The authority of the Individual States of America has eroded substantially in the second half of American history as the power and budget of the Federal Government has increased. Constitutionally, the Federal Government has no authority to regulate anything that does not cross a State border, but in the late 20th Century, we witnessed Federal mandates on speed limits, helmets, and seat belts. This was possible, not by direct Federal laws, but by a penalty imposed by the Federal Government on State Governments that failed to bend to their will. It was the power of the purse, not the power of legislation the Federal Government used.
The Federal Government blackmailed the State Governments by stating that if the State Legislatures did not make laws requiring HOV lanes, and wearing of seat belts, then the taxes collected by the Federal Government from the Citizens of the States would not be returned to the State Governments. This was made possible by the 16th Amendment of 1913 to the Constitution, which fundamentally changed the manner the Federal Government was funded, allowing the People to be directly taxed by the Federal Government.
In Islamist, Socialist, & Communist forms of governments, such arm-twisting of provincial governments is unnecessary, because the Provincial Governments are subservient to the National Government. Since the average Nation is the size of a US State, this is less of an issue. The Sovereign State of Portugal has less diversity, size of government, and concerns than do the United States of America. The Portugese Government can effectively run its School System and has less need for municipal police forces.
A recent example of the difference in elections is the Iranian parliamentary elections of the Majles. I've seen reports describing the parties as "reformist," "pragmatic," "conservative," and "radical." While the current government of Iran was brought to bear by a combination of Communist, Democractic, and a minority of Islamist protestors, it was the later, under the dictatorship of the Ayatollah Khomeni that Islamists seized the reins of government.
The parliament of Iran has little real power, and the electorate has little choice in who is seated in the Majles. The "legislation" passed by the Majles cannot become law, until it is approved by the Guardian Council of Iran, 12 people, primarily of the Shi'a Clerical Class appointed by the Supreme Leader in one way or another, by the Ayatollah Khameni, who replaced the Ayatollah Khomeni. The same body of Shi'a religious overlords decides who can run for office. The difference between a "reformist" and those who wish to "conserve" the Islamist power of the "religious" dictators is small. It can mean the difference between whether women are allowed to be separated in the same classes by a wall from males, or must be sent to separate schools altogether. It can mean the difference of whether, the polticians believe that trade with Europe or the United States is sufficiently beneficial to the government of Iran to allow discussion or should be absolutely forbidden.
The true rulers of Iran however, state that a fundamental purpose of their government is to be in a state of perpetual conflict with the United States. The "pragmatists" in the past have decided that the immediate needs of survival made it necessary to buy weapons from Israel to prevent defeat by Iraq, but did not repeal support and sponsorship of Hezbollah against Israel. And those rulers are not chosen in any manner by the electorate of Iran.
If 2009 is any indication of 2013, one hundred times more people will be denied the authority to run for President, than will be allowed to be on the ballot, by the true rulers of the Iranian people. The "President" of Iran, Makmood Akdiminijad, is little more than a spokesman for the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khameni. A lot is being made of a "power struggle" between the two, but the Ayatollah can "impeach" Akdiminijad at his discretion, and used his authority to overturn the election of an opponent of him to the Presidency in 2009.
The "elections" of a new parliament in Iran has little bearing on the governance of Iran. The power remains with the Supreme Leader and the those appointed by him and the Guardian Council, to include the "President" and the Ministers of the various Ministries.
The Parliament and Executive Branches of Great Britain provide an example of one extreme of the parliamentary system while the Majles of Iran provides the opposite end of that spectrum. The Executive Branch of Great Britain is the Monarch while in Iran it is the Ayatollah. While the Majles has no real authority and the Supreme Leader has no constraints, the Queen of England has primarily a ceremonial role and the Prime Minister of England runs the affairs of government, with the consent of the Parliament that elected him.
The difference in governments and elections is profoundly different throughout the world, but the American system stands at one end of the spectrum of Freedom, and power derived of the People, while Iran and Syria, as well as the historical Soviet Union stands at the opposite end. The Federal Government of the United States has increased its power over the last 100 years, but the mechanisms and concepts of choosing Representatives to limit the government in the United States has not changed significantly since the 17th Amendment stripped the State governments of representation in the Senate.
Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in comparisons of the Constitutional Rights of the people, such as in the Freedom of Press:
"Publications and the press have freedom of expression except when it is detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public. The details of this exception will be specified by law." Article 24, Constitution of the Islamist Government of Iran
In short, there is a Freedom of the Press in Iran, as long as the Ayatollah and his appointed government approves the "free" expressions. This is fundamentally different than the authority granted by the US Constitution, which affords no exception for Government to interfere.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or
the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government
for a redress of grievances." 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, Bill of Rights
While the Iranian Constitution makes all rights subservient to the Government's dictates, and religion, the US Constitution specifically prohibits either religion or government dictates from curbing those rights. It should be noted that the First Amendment does not protect those who commit crimes in the furtherance of Free Speech or Press, but it does prevent the Government from making "hate speech" or political dissent a crime.
The combination of these fundamental differences creates the difference between Citizens and Subjects of the government. It is the difference between a government derived of the people and one imposed on the people. While the US Government has greater power than the Founding Fathers allowed or envisioned, that has only occurred through election of politicians by the People, who promised growth of governmental powers over the people, and "handouts" marketed as "free."
Citizens have rights and responsibilities in the affairs of government, while subjects must beg for mercy and handouts, hoping for a benevolent dictator. The subjects of Iran & Syria have no real choice in their rulers, while the Citizenry of America have a responsibility to protect the Rights of all against politicians that would expand their own power.