Please don't misunderstand what follows. I am no fan of dictatorship, of Platonic government of philosophers, of hereditary ruling monarchies, or of military juntas. I feel as strongly as most of us that the government is best when it is by, with and of the people. But I also remember one of those eye-opening moments when I was a student, sometime around 1974 -- a moment delivered by Moses Finley, the awkward, clever and charismatic Professor of Ancient History in Cambridge back then. He was lecturing us on Greek (largely Athenian) democracy, about which most of us were pretty dewey eyed and not very hard-headed.
I still remember the penny dropping when he pointed out to us that there was hardly a country in the world, of many different political systems, that did not claim to be a 'democracy' -- it was often, he insisted, used as a term more of approval than of analysis. He went on to explain that the slogan 'power to the people' was a warm one, but there was no agreed way of judging whether the power had actually been delivered. Who has a political voice in the shape of a vote is one factor (though many people happily think of Britain as 'democratic' decades, if not centuries, before women had the vote). Who has political initiative, that is who can form policy, is another. Freedom of -- and equality of -- speech often gets put into the equation. You might also take equality of access to key resources which enable full participaton in the political process, such as education or healthcare. And then there are all the differences between a direct democracy (Athenian style), a representative democracy and a delegated one (that is to say, we currently elect representatives to govern according to their best judgement not delegates who must necessarily follow the will of their constituents on each issue).
It was in recognition of this lightbulb moment that I used to ask first years when we started on ancient democracy to think of how a spokesperson for the then German Democratic Republic (which we in the west almost universally regarded as tyranny) might defend its 'democratic' elements, or conversely how the USA of UK could be presented as having a glaring democratic deficit. At first they would look baffled, but very quickly -- even if only for the sake of argument -- they would start to wonder how to weigh up freedom of speech versus freedom of access to health care, and to discuss the hereditary elements in the UK parliament and the role of immense wealth in enabling US citizens to exercise political influence. One 'man' one vote, as their definiton of democracy would usually begin, was soon looking pretty inadequate.