‘Backlash to the backlash’: tide turning against populism?



The newly-elected prime minister of the center-right New Democracy party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, promises a return to normality for the middle class after 4.5 years with the populist Syriza party in power. However, despite his clear majority in the parliament, radical and populist forces are alive and well in the legislature, notes Theodore Pelagidis, Nonresident Senior Fellow in Global Economy and Development at Brookings:

A new far-right party, The Greek Solution, entered the parliament, crossing the 3 percent electoral law threshold with nine lawmakers. A nascent leftist party, MeRA25, created by former maverick finance minister Yani Varoufakis, also crossed the 3 percent threshold, winning 10 seats. One should not forget the tough, Soviet-style “Greek Communist party” that is always present in the house and that this time got 5.3 percent (15 Deputies). Finally, the former Socialists, a party with leanings similar to those held by Syriza, now called Movement of Change, took 8.1 percent of the votes (22 Deputies).

Mitsotakis has a window of opportunity to quickly pass several important pieces of legislation, Pelagidis adds. Now is an opportune time during which pushback is likely to be minimal.

In Central Europe too, people are protesting or electing as if they were sick of rule by corrupt demagogic authoritarians. Perhaps it’s contagious, says Jeffrey A. Stacey, a former State Department official. Yet the question remains: Is a discernible trend at work here? Either way, logic may well be on the liberals’ side, he writes for The New York Times:

  • First, populist leaders tend to be poor at governing, particularly in the area of economic policy.
  • Second, the more Russia continues to rattle its sabers and make European countries feel insecure, the more places like Poland will avoid becoming too populist.
  • Third, while electorates in Europe have been withdrawing their support from traditional center-left and center-right parties, liberal, green and other parties offer decidedly anti-populist policies.

We may need more time to ascertain whether a larger global “backlash to the backlash” trend is afoot, adds Stacy, who is working on a book titled “Rise of the East, End of the West?” Though the trend already appears to have crested in the West, the battle against populism has been joined by regrouped liberal forces. The vaunted liberal international order, however damaged, remains intact to a significant degree. RTWT

The historical record since 1945 gives us a picture of how populists operate once they hold political power. The record shows that populism is inimical to liberal democracy, and not a corrective to some of its failings, Takis S. Pappas – author of Populism and Liberal Democracy – writes for the NED’s Journal of Democracy.


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