New Zealand is currently a constitutional monarchy, but in reality we function as a democracy. What's the difference between a democracy and a republic? Why is it important not to confuse the two?
A democracy is rule by the majority. If more than 50% of the people can be persuaded to want something in a democracy, then they hold the power over society. This means that the majority can theoretically enact whatever they want, without regard for justice, morality, the rights of minorities or the rule of law. Every majority can become misguided, so it stands to reason that their power shouldn't be unlimited. "Majority rule only works if you're also considering individual rights. Because you can't have five wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for supper." ~Larry Flynt
In the New Zealand context, the rule by the majority is expressed through our Parliament of elected representatives. Because our country only has an unwritten constitution (one that is fragmented, decentralized, highly flexible and changed relatively easily), Parliament is sovereign over everything. Under Parliamentary supremacy, our Bill of Rights and the way our government functions can be changed by a simple majority vote. This gives broad, sweeping powers to Parliament which are open to abuse. Without adequate restraints or safeguards, this has the potential to become what is known as the tyranny of the majority. The majority use their power to infringe on the rights of others or institute controlling and oppressive measures, because there is nothing higher than them which says they cannot do so.
A republic, on the other hand, is rule by Law. The ultimate authority in a republic is not the ever-wavering majority that tosses and turns like the tide, but rather a higher Law (a written constitution). A true republic is ruled by a higher Law that limits the government, and leaves the people to themselves. The majority does not take all in a republic because the constitution restrains the majority. The constitution protects the God-given, inalienable rights of all, including the minority and the individual.
A republic isn't perfect, but it is the best form of government by far. The emphasis of a republic is different compared to a democracy (although in modern times, both usually have elected representatives). The emphasis of a Republic is a higher law --something more fundamental and concrete than what the majority wants at this particular point in time. It encourages more reasonable decisions, long term thinking, and well thought out changes, not rushed and rash rulings. "Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of democracy." ~Alexander Hamilton. The essence of freedom is the proper limitation of government.