You're probably quite correct on the topic of whether or not a given country operates as a "true democracy." But sometimes it's easier to reduce the discussion to its more bare essentials.
IMO, what makes the biggest difference here is how the public perceives the role of its government. Does the public expect the government to be "leading, directing them throughout their lives," or does the public expect the government to "do their bidding."
What I find really sad is when people look to the government for leadership. That borders on pathetic. Any "leadership" we expect from our politicans had better be the result of us demanding that leadership, in directions we demand, not us passively expecting the leadership from some sort of demi-gods, so we can put our brains in neutral.
Of course, not every wish can be granted in such a system, which is why most democracies are in truth representative republics. But it's everyone's duty to make their voice heard, to hold their representatives accountable, and to work to boot them out of office when they misbehave (e.g. when they don't listen to what we told them to do!). The terms "civil servant" and "elected representative" are supposed to mean what they say.
I think Douglas Adams describes modern democracy brilliantly in So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish (1984), the 4th book of the Hitchhiker's trilogy. Ford Prefect describes the government of a planet populated by people, but ruled by lizards:
"No," said Ford, "... the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people." "Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy." "I did," said Ford. "It is." "So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, "why don't people get rid of the lizards?" "It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want." "You mean they actually vote for the lizards?" "Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course." "But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?" "Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?"
In the USA people vote for the candidates who spend the most money on TV advertising. It doesn't occur to people to spend a few minutes per candidate to check out their web sites and see who would best represent their interests. Then voters have the nerve to complain that the politicians they elect don't represent them well.
I don't think there are many true democracies in the world. Certainly in Australia we only get to chose which dictator we want for the next few years. Once in power they don't keep their pre-election promises, on the flimsiest of excuses, and there is no way to hold them to their words. Switzerland, with its system of referendums on big issues, maybe comes close but I have heard that is not perfect either.
Even in a democracy, a majority of the people place their trust in their government, which still occasionally violates that trust, in the eyes of at least a significant fraction of the people. The news is filled with the most extreme examples, all of which appear to be violations of human rights and democracy.
Please understand that I am not a gun owner but I certainly feel that gun ownership should never be banned for similar reasons to what the Chinese government was attempting squash at the time (and now). This is similar in nature to what the Turkish gevernment attempted to do with Twitter. Such authoritarian stories continue to this day and as long as there are authotity figures, there will always be the potential that any population/society can become the victims of those who hold absolute power.
Similarly, these types of stories may have actually led Edward Snowden to do what he did and why he decided to become such a whistle-blower. I think that after a full year later of his revelations, I am no longer sitting on the fence about his acts and I think that his acts were for common good... unless, of course (as some feel), there are other agendas being played by people behind the scenes in the Snowden saga!
I don't mean to offend anyone with my opinions and feelings regarding this topic >> consider these words as strictly one engineers "IMHO" >> nothing more and nothing less!