I am writing a fantasy world and am attempting to make a unique election system for it. My current idea is a combination of a meritocracy (based on ability) and democracy (populace votes). The candidates will go through a knowledge test that determines if they understand how to manage the country, and then afterwards a competition happens, something like the Olympics. The populous votes after watching the competition based on the results. Is something like this realistic?

Clarification: The knowledge test is the easier part (due to magic stuff, explanation not important), and is run by a council, who is headed by the current ruler. The competition involves combat, both a free-for-all and a bracket tournament. Magic is an element in this, and quite a significant one. The voting is direct, with only limit being that you must be a citizen.

Further clarification edit: The reason that there is a competition is to demonstrate the candidate's actual power, since this is a fantasy realm. People would still vote on who they like, but since the ruler should also have actual power so they can maintain their position, The citizens being shown the actual power would sway at least some people's decisions. Reason to need actual power is that country leader is also military leader and engages in active combat.

Special note to AlexP: Yeah, duh, magic isn't realistic. I want an election system that IS somewhat realistic, since the combat could just as easily be purely martial combat. also, "populous" was a misspell. I meant "populace."

  • $\begingroup$ "Populous" vote? And once you have magic stuff, you are not writing a realistic story. You probably mean verisimilar, but even so the degree of verisimilitude depends very much more on the skill of the story teller than on the actual mechanics of the plot. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented May 17 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ Why would people vote for the winner of this fighting tournament instead of, for instance, someone who supports policies they like or somebody endorsed by people they trust? $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented May 17 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ The biggest problem with any political system is corruption. There are many, many people with money but not in political power who want to make things happen to their favor. No matter who is in power, these people will approach them with gifts, etc. to get access and then to try to convince them that what they want will be "good for the person in power." This is why the US Founding Fathers built the separation of power and repeated elections. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Commented May 17 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ If you have popular vote you can't have meritocracy (unless the quality you're selecting for is popularity). Some people will always vote for the candidate they like the most rather than who they feel is the most qualified. You could have meritocracy of sorts if the winner of your competition automatically became the ruler, without the vote at the end. $\endgroup$ Commented May 17 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ I would suggest putting your selection test and tournament rules into the constitution. If your selection test is written by the current council of rulers, then "knows how to manage the country" inevitably means "agrees with all of of the test-writer's policy proposals and isn't part of the Undesirable Others Outgroup". $\endgroup$
    – g s
    Commented May 17 at 15:56

6 Answers 6


That is not that different from how some Ancient societies chose their leaders.

One reason why we used to have games like Olympics or games on Tribal Festivals, is for young men to show their skill, strength and prowess without actually having to kill anyone; which would later help them gain popularity, make connections, and rise to become chiefs, warband-leaders or even generals.

Basically the same thing you described, only there would be longer delay between the Games and the Votes.

The obvious problem though is that martial skill (or magical skill) is not what we require from a functional politician, administrator and bureaucrat.

I think it might be better if your society's government was split into 3 factions:

  • The Elected: this are the badasses that showed themselves capable in the Games, and people voted on them because of that. Elected would have both the executive power and power over military.
  • The Populars: this is a body made of regular people, who were voted into office based on their promises, basically politicians. They would have half of the Legislative power. Their job is to be the "voice of the common people".
  • The Scholars: this body is purely meritocratic, made of various scholars, academics, judges, "scientists", magic theorists and retired mages. Not voted into office, but chosen by their predecessors through difficult exams. These would have the other half of the Legislative power, the Judicial power, and control education, as well as the procedures of the 3 types of elections.

This would allow for some checks and balances to be present, while limiting both the disadvantages of democracy and meritocracy.


TalCorp external agent, welcome. Yes, this is perfectly realistic and if you look closely, all elements of it have either been practiced historically or are practiced right now:

-- "a knowledge test that determines if they understand how to manage the country" is the candidate's political career; given how few jobs a political system offers, the successful candidates must be able to prove their understanding very consistently. You could argue that what they actually prove is just an ability to get themselves elected, to which I'll say that in order to manage, you need to first become the manager... ;)

-- "the populous votes after watching the competition based on the results" is a very exact description of electoral debates, a very common occurrence in Western democracies.

-- "magic stuff" oozes out of political campaigning. There are few things which better meet the definition of magic as "the art and practice of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will". That's the essence of political campaigns: to get you to like a candidate enough to vote for him (or these days, more often to get you to dislike the other candidates enough to not vote for them).

-- only getting the candidates personally involved in combat is not in widespread practice today; but historically it has been the norm.

So given all that, it would work just as well as the current democracies, or perhaps even very slightly better. At the very least, electoral debates would certainly be that bit more entertaining... ;)

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Thanks, this actually answers the question perfectly. And yes, the active combat will probably make debates a little more fun for the viewers. "Environmental regulations are ABSOLUTELY an issue, so if you will let me-" Explosions ensue $\endgroup$ Commented May 17 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ I imagine it more as a duel by proxy. On the left, John "Global Warming" Cena. On the right, Hulk "Illegal Immigration" Hogan. Let's get ready to rumbleeeeee! $\endgroup$
    – ihaveideas
    Commented May 17 at 20:19

The one thing I would say is unrealistic is that a knowledge test likely tests what the test-makers think is important rather than whatever is likely important to the nation.

I see this as very much an instance of Stalin's "I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how."


Once my maths teacher told me that you can, in general, optimize for only one variable. At times you may get lucky to have the best of multiple but its not a general rule.

You, are trying to ride 3 horses at a time. You want your political system to be meritocratic AND democratic AND based on winning a combat. You can only choose one for your story.

Its because you can enchant your characters but not your audience. Your characters will look too lucky to be realistic or too assisted by the author for your audience to invest in them.

You see your hero has to be powerful but not too powerful. What he/she must have is continued struggle. He/She must be able to overcome his/her hurdles "on his/her own".

A democratic system cannot also be a meritocratic system as long as your characters have personality/are humans. They will have illogical likings/disliking and prejudices. Think about it. Why do you like a particular color? Your liking is based on emotions and emotions are by definition illogical.

Why do anybody want anything? Why do you want to live? Why do you move out of your bed every morning? Why do you not end your life today?

You can say its to get pleasure and to avoid pain. For example, one may believe in afterlife and consider suicide a sin. One may just get up in morning and leave bed in hope of getting some pleasure even if its as little as being in direct sunlight or see friendly faces.

The question is, why would one want pleasure or want to avoid pain? It all comes down to emotions. Those emotions have no underlying logic to them.

Meritocracy is based on logic. Democracy is based on emotions. If one want to vote a candidate just because she is of his locality or is of same skin color he is, in democracy he can very well do so and legitimately. It do not in democracy matter how bad that person is, and how dangerous she could be in a position of power.

Democracy is not guaranteed to get you the most eligible candidate. Its only guaranteed to get you the candidate that satisfies most people before she comes in power.


In Nevil Shute's novel 'In The Wet', a dying and delirious man talks to a priest, describing what seems to be an alternative life of his in the future. In that future people had one vote, and could be awarded five further votes if they held high office or otherwise performed some role esteemed by society. And he had been awarded the rare 'seventh vote' by the state for unusual services.

The story is light on detail for the particular system, but it might be something you can use.


It probably wouldn't be democratic

Direct combat is easy to bias to a chosen faction. In the free for all and the bracket members of the dominant faction can just injure or harass members of other factions to get them to drop out. Access to greater resources tends to mean your combat power is much more since you can just hire mercenaries. It doesn't matter if they lose so long as they injure your enemies.

It isn't meritocratic.

The knowledge test is run by the current administration and makes no effort to be neutral. It would likely be biased towards their view of the world. Any innovation or creativity would get lower results.

It wouldn't show combat ability

A dominant faction can easily hire mercenaries. It would show how well connected the dominant faction is as their mercenaries injured or killed their opposition, while the dominant faction got easy fights and wins.

The end result would be connected members of the dominant faction who agreed with the ideology of the ruling faction who had enough luck to not be paired with any outsiders with decent combat skills.


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