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Duterte, Modi, Widodo. Re-elected or not, their populism will live on

24 0 18

Major Asian democracies will undergo crucial elections in the coming months, which will test the mettle of a new brand of populism that has gripped the region.

From Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to Narendra Modi in India and Joko Widodo in Indonesia, recent years have seen political outsiders capture power through the promise of wholesale transformation of their societies. Whatever the election results, which will probably favour the incumbents, their brand of populism will be here to stay unless their liberal counterparts provide a more palatable alternative that addresses the needs of the aspirational middle classes.

Though their backgrounds and operations are diverse, these political figures have in common four basic characteristics.

First, railing against bureaucratic red tape and corruption, they promised decisive and effective leadership. In particular, they drew heavily on their executive background in local governance and their folksy, if not pedestrian, demeanour.

Second, they ran on an anti-establishment platform, which promised political transformation at the expense of a discredited ruling elite. Third, they emphasised the importance of societal order, even if this came at the expense of rule of law and basic civil liberties.

And, crucially, they enjoyed huge appeal among the emerging middle classes and the youth, who seek a greater voice and new opportunities amid years of rapid yet uneven economic growth.

Their rallying cry is not so much freedom and democracy as effective governance and equitable delivery of public........

© South China Morning Post