On the rise of populism in Southeast Asia

Populism is a political phenomenon that appeals to the common people by contrasting them with the elite or the establishment. Populist leaders often claim to represent the true will of the people and challenge the existing institutions and norms of democracy. 

Populism can take various forms and ideologies, such as nationalism, socialism, or religious fundamentalism. In recent years, populism has been on the rise in Southeast Asia, a region that comprises 11 countries with diverse cultures, religions, and political systems. 

Some of the most prominent examples of populist leaders in Southeast Asia are Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Prayut Chan-o-cha in Thailand, Joko Widodo in Indonesia, and Hun Sen in Cambodia. 

These leaders have gained popularity by promising to fight corruption, crime, drugs, terrorism, or foreign interference, while often disregarding human rights, civil liberties, and the rule of law. 

The rise of populism in Southeast Asia has significant implications for regional stability and cooperation. On one hand, populism can foster a sense of national identity and solidarity among the people and mobilize them for social and economic development. 

On the other hand, populism can also fuel polarization, intolerance, violence, and authoritarianism, and undermine democratic institutions and norms. 

Moreover, populism can affect regional relations by creating tensions or alliances among populist leaders based on their ideological affinities or conflicts. 

Therefore, it is important for the international community and regional organizations, such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), to monitor and engage with the populist trends in Southeast Asia. 

They should support the democratic forces and civil society groups that promote pluralism, dialogue, and accountability in the region. They should also encourage regional cooperation and integration that can address the common challenges and opportunities faced by the Southeast Asian countries.

Baba Abdullahi Machina,

Political Science Department,

University of Maiduguri