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Number of populist world leaders lowest in 20 years | World News

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The number of populist leaders around the world has dropped to a 20-year low after a string of wins by progressives and centrists last year, according to a Tony Blair Institute analysis showing that the number of people living under populist rule dropped by 800 million in two years.

The research claims that 2023 could be an equally decisive year for populism, with critical elections in Turkey and Poland. These two elections could lead to the toppling of two of the world’s most influential populist governments, though that may still require divided opposition parties in both countries to form clearer coalition programs than they have so far.

Of the populists who lost power, Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro and Slovenian Janez Janša were defeated in relatively close elections in 2022, while Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines was limited to one term and could not run for re-election. In Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was ousted from office over protests.

The report says that 1.7 billion people lived under a populist leader in early 2023, compared with 2.5 billion in 2020. It says that populism on both the left and the right is defined by two claims – that the ” “true people” of a country are locked in a moral conflict with “outsiders” and, second, that nothing should restrain the will of the “true people”.

Rodrigo Duterte holding gun
Rodrigo Duterte: could not run for the second term. Photography: Bullit Marquez/AP

Much of the decline in populism has occurred in Latin America, most notably with Bolsonaro’s defeat in Brazil, the report said, but also with the election of a generation of moderate leftists across Latin America who “rejected populist rhetoric and focused on progressive economics”. and social rights, rather than the populist left’s historical focus on industrial nationalization”.

The report also notes that in the US midterm elections, most candidates endorsed by Donald Trump, who championed right-wing nationalism and conspiracy theories, were not elected and underperformed moderates.

“After defeating several moderate Republicans in primary elections in swing states, Trump candidates lost most of those races in November, costing Republicans control of the Senate and several governorships. Most notably, they lost all state elections for positions involving election administration in swing states,” the report said.

“While Congress has blocked Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, US voters have blocked efforts by his supporters to administer future elections in 2022.” But the report cautions that this defeat of Trump’s rejection of democracy may not signal the long-term defeat of cultural populism in the US.

The report broadly defines populism into three categories: cultural populism, which has a right-wing ethnonationalist appeal; socioeconomic populism, which appeals to the left; and anti-establishment populism, which focuses on targeting elites.

He says cultural populism still has a big hold on US politics, regardless of the defeat of Trump-endorsed candidates and doubts about the former president’s prospects in 2024, pointing to the views of Ron DeSantis, likely another top candidate. . “Even if Trump loses, cultural populism will likely remain strong within the GOP,” he says.

donald trump
Donald Trump: His candidates lost most races. Photography: Andy Jacobsohn/AFP/Getty Images

The report – Repel and Rebuild: Expanding the Playbook Against Populism – states that the remaining examples of populist governments around the world (seven out of 11) are almost entirely composed of right-wing cultural populists, as opposed to economic or anti-establishment populists.

But cultural populist governments have struggled to form effective governments, especially when facing economic challenges or complex issues like Covid, the report states, noting that four have fallen from power in 2022 – in Brazil, the Philippines, Slovenia and Sri Lanka.

The report, however, strongly cautions against premature claims of populism’s defeat, pointing out that in 2022 populists were part of election-winning coalitions in Italy, Israel and Sweden. Marine Le Pen was defeated by French President Emmanuel Macron, but her party did well in the legislative elections.

In the UK, the Conservative party is likely to face a challenge from the right-wing populist Reform UK party, which has pledged to run cross-party candidates rather than stick with UKIP’s 2019 pact not to oppose Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.

While Richard Tice’s party is unlikely to win a seat in the next election, it is taking around 8% of the vote, and most of that would come from disgruntled Conservative voters. He might be more successful if Nigel Farage, who has brought UKIP and the Brexit party to much wider prominence, were more involved.

The institute argues that traditional anti-populist parties may have to recognize that they need a different anti-populist playbook when in power than that used by traditional parties when populists are in power.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: government in grave danger. Photography: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

He says traditional parties should have a clear and substantive political agenda of their own and not focus on negative campaigns against populist opponents, as populist opponents will always argue that their core issues are downplayed by mainstream politics. The report says that major parties must realize that voters are increasingly tired of rhetorical excesses that ignore the problems facing a country.

The report’s author, Brett Meyer, said it showed a trend towards progressive centrism in several countries. “Centrists continued to revert the boundaries of populism in 2022, with the number of populists in power falling to a 20-year low,” he said.

“This is largely due to the success of progressive centrism over populism in the Americas, as progressive center-left leaders have replaced the populist old left. Populism also took a significant hit in the US midterm elections.”

But the fate of populism could turn this year in elections in Poland and Turkey, where the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is in grave danger. “At the end of 2022, Turkey had the world’s deepest negative interest rates when adjusted for inflation and the lira was the worst performer in emerging markets against the dollar,” the report said, warning that the Turkish president was willing to talk to create conflicts with Greece or the Kurds to excite nationalist support.

This article was amended on January 5, 2023. An earlier version said that the number of people living under populist rule had dropped by 800,000 in two years. That should have been 800 million.

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