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Populism Takes Asia

Despite the damage populists have done in the West, Asian voters are increasingly falling for the likes of India’s Narendra Modi, Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. How can responsible Asian leaders take the wind out of populists’ sails?

SEOUL – The rise of populism across the West in recent years has been the subject of countless discussions, and for good reason: populists’ misguided policies often have severely adverse political and economic consequences. Now, those risks are coming to Asia.

There is no straightforward definition of populism. It may be ideological, economic, social, or cultural. It may reflect left-wing or right-wing views. And it is often interpreted in a country-specific context.

But populism’s various iterations tend to share common features. Populist parties are typically led by a charismatic individual, who pits “the corrupt elite” and “outsiders” against “the people,” whose true will the populist purports to represent. This approach is most effective at times when the public is deeply frustrated with established leaders or political parties, owing to deepening economic and social disparities, rising insecurity, or overt corruption.

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