How political populism has taken root


Populism and political extremism has been on the rise for years, especially in Europe, with both left and right wing authoritarians gaining in popularity, according to analysts at Deutsche Bank.

“For explaining vote choices, some analysts have stressed the connection between a sense of general pessimism among (parts of) the electorate and support for populists,” economists Barbara Boetscher and Patricia Wruuck said in a note to clients on Friday.

“While populism was an omnipresent theme in public discourse, support for populist parties in polls rather remained stable and elections did not translate into outright populist wins. Rather than ‘the year of the populist surge’, 2016 may be better described as a year when the impact of populists on political systems was increasingly felt.”

“The rise of populist parties has however been a multi-year trend,” Deutsche Bank adds. “Greater fractionalization, shrinking majorities, increasing vote shares of radical rightwing parties in particular, and more polarized political disputes have been more common following financial crises in modern democracies. The key issue is that political fragility may hinder reforms and hence economic recovery.”

At a rally with European allies in January, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen predicted the Continent would “rise up” in 2017 as the Anglo-Saxon world had done last year by voting for Brexit and Donald Trump, Nicholas Vinocur writes for POLITICO:

So far, the populist uprising hasn’t gone to plan. Geert Wilders was meant to lead the charge by winning last week’s Dutch parliamentary election — but he came in a distant second, far below his poll numbers from only a few weeks ago, and will have no role in the next government.

Credit: CEPA

Europe’s neo-fascists are stepping back out, more than three-quarters of a century after Nazi boots stormed through Central Europe, and two decades since a neo-Nazi resurgence of skinheads and white supremacists unsettled the transition to democracy, The New York Times reports:

They are still on the edges of European politics, yet offer another reminder of how turbulent politics have become. Just as the rise of far-right parties is forcing many mainstream politicians to pivot rightward, so, too, has the populist mood energized the most extremist right-wing groups, those flirting with or even embracing fascist policies that trace back to World War II…. Although nationalist parties have thrived across Europe in recent years, only a few — Golden Dawn in Greece and the National Democratic Party in Germany, to name two — embrace neo-fascist views. Some, like Jobbik in Hungary, are extremist in their right-wing views but stop short of outright fascism.

“Before, pro-fascist sentiments were kept hidden,” said Gabriel Sipos, director of Transparency International Slovakia. “Parents would tell their children, ‘You cannot say this at school.’ Now, you can say things in the public space that you couldn’t say before.”

Instead, the broader impact of these groups has been measured in how they have pushed mainstream parties in a more firmly nationalist direction — especially on immigration — to slow the defection of supporters, The Times adds:

In Slovakia, neo-fascism has established something of a beachhead. Mr. Svec is joining a political field where a party with an established neo-fascist leader, Marian Kotleba, demonstrated surprising strength in last year’s parliamentary elections, winning 14 seats in the 150-member chamber. In Slovakia, neo-fascists are winning regional offices and taking seats in the multiparty Parliament they hope to replace with strongman rule.

“Now, extremists and fascists are part of the system,” said Grigorij Meseznikov (right), president of the Institute for Public Affairs, a liberal research group [and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy].

“Populists can affect national politics in various ways,” the Deutsche Bank analysis suggests:

One possible effect is that forming a government (coalition) often gets more complicated and time-consuming – resulting in more fragile governments which may foster discontent further. Another is populists’ potential impact on style and content of policy discussions. Pursuing policies which hold long-term benefits but are often not instantly popular becomes more difficult – both at the national and the European level.


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