Dictators even pretend to rule democracies by holding elections. They maintain their power by heavily selecting who’s electable. Their parliaments have no real powers. They work for the tyrants by letting parties scream at each other, dividing the population into warring camps. When a real revolt threatens, the ruler, always supposedly sympathetic to the common man, will fire the government to appoint new straw men. But real democracies work more subtly.
Before the poor, illiterate, and women (and in the US: the Blacks) got voting rights, the problem was: How do the super-rich keep their power and money? The key to maintaining their privilege was slowing down any changes. When inevitable improvements got through, they would be embedded in protecting the narrow interests of the most powerful.
It’s not that politicians are incompetent to bring major changes. The system is designed to curve any threat to the super-wealthy. Otherwise, the super-rich would never have agreed to let everyone vote.
On top of this, most popular is the use of politicians who pretend to be for the people and other noble things like freedom. (The freedom of the most wealthy to keep their power.) These ‘liberals’ never say that they are for the very rich. The very rich know whom to fund and vote for.
A nice trick is to give the ‘a bit more fortunate’ the feeling that they have something to lose. They will often vote for securing their tiny benefit instead of the common good. The (upper) middle class for the owners. But also: the educated working class will want to keep its privileges.
On top of that, the ‘best’ politicians are those who don’t just pretend and lie about where their loyalties lie. They also know how to rile up and manipulate the public. They will not just bring you more money — they will stop and prevent life-threatening poverty ‘the others’ would bring you. They will not just defend you against foreign powers — they will win ‘for you’ (at their desk while your kids die in battle) the war from these ‘aggressors’ (making fortunes from arms sales).’
The last two things, to pretend to be on your side and inciting you, help prevent that the goods are returned from the super-rich to the people. But the basic tool is to slow down progress until their money is secured.