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A virus to kill populism, or make it stronger?

24 1 1
31.03.2020

London – The last global crisis paved their way to power. The question is whether the latest one will loosen their grip on it.

Fallout from the 2008 financial meltdown produced an electoral earthquake that upended postwar party politics, brought a new breed of populists to government and decisively shifted the balance among global powers toward China from the U.S. The new coronavirus may prove just as disruptive.

It’s too soon to predict which governments will suffer politically from their handling of the virus, as the death toll continues to grow and a quarter of the world’s population remains in lockdown. Whether responses to COVID-19 unmask or entrench such leaders as U.S. President Donald Trump, President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil or Italian opposition chief Matteo Salvini remains unclear.

So, too, whether China will succeed or fail in transforming a disease that appears to have spread across the globe from Hubei province into a geopolitical opportunity, as it airlifts medical teams and supplies of masks and other equipment to burnish its image in countries such as Iran and Italy.

But what’s already apparent is that for populist leaders who thrive on portraying their country as under siege, the coronavirus is proving a challenge. This time the enemy is an invisible one that doesn’t easily fit into a simple anti-elite, anti-migrant or anti-science narrative that has proven so politically fruitful before. Rather than fear others, people fear for themselves.

Not only is the coronavirus creating a Darwinist test of which systems and societies are better able to cope, more citizens will put a premium on political decisions being underpinned by truth, said Ahn Cheol-soo, a former South Korean presidential candidate.

“It will eventually help build a political landscape in which the public isn’t swayed by populism,” said Ahn, who is trying to form a........

© The Japan Times