Populism in Southeast Asia

PD Dr. Andreas Ufen
2017 - 2020
EC, Horizon 2020

Prof. Yves Goudineau, Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO); Coordinator, France

Prof. Volker Grabowsky, University of Hamburg, Germany

Dr. Tomas Larsson, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Prof. David Camroux, Vietnam National University, Vietnam



Research Questions:

The surge of Trumpism in the US and of nationalist populism in Asia and Europe, but also of leftist populist politicians in Latin America signify major shifts with reference to economic globalization, the role of political parties, the decline of “classical” ideologies, and the politicization of religion. It is still questionable how Southeast Asian countries are affected by these developments and whether there are characteristic forms of populism.

Contribution to International Research:

This research project, which is part of a larger EU project on Regional Integration in Southeast Asia (CRISEA), asks whether the specific notions of “the pure people”, “the corrupt elite”, of “thin ideologies”, etc. are relevant for a discussion of the subject in Southeast Asia. Moreover, this project seeks to investigate the causes and effects of the rise of populist leaders, ideologies and mobilization strategies in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. This is important in order to better understand the global emergence and the diverse expressions of populism.

Research Design and Methods:

The project analyses populist mobilization during local and national elections in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. It examines discourses during election campaigns and in between elections, specifically with respect to major populist leaders.

Preliminary Results:

Populists in Southeast Asia are often outsiders with a strongmen image. As right-wing populists they undermine democratic institutions. Whereas in Europe, the “true people” is often defined in ethno-nationalist terms, populists in SEA have a problem in defining “the true, morally pure, homogeneous people”. In SEA, enemies are usually not immigrants, but religious or ethnic minorities or drug traders and addicts.