Cooperation Event

Populism in Asia: Contours, Causes, Consequences


15/11/2017 - 16/11/2017


09:00 a.m. (CET)

  • During the last few years, populism has gained widespread attention in the Western world. The rise of populist movements such as Pegida in Germany and the Brexiteers in the UK, of populist radical right-wing parties all over Europe and of Donald Trump in the US show that a new spectre is haunting the world: populism. Whereas the developments in Europe and Latin America have been intensely debated, populist tendencies in Asia have been largely ignored. Apart from the comparative volume by Mizuno/Pasuk (2009), the phenomenon has slipped academic attention so far. Yet, in recent years, the success of a new “Islamic populism” in Indonesia and Turkey (Hadiz 2016), the rise of populist-authoritarian strongmen such as Duterte in the Philippines (Thompson 2017) and Prabowo in Indonesia (Aspinall 2016) or the election of Hindu-nationalist leader Modi in India illustrate the salience of the phenomenon in Asia. A two-day-workshop organized by Monash Malaysia’s School of Arts and Social Science and the German Institute for Global and Area Studies in Hamburg (GIGA) is exploring the issue of populist mobilization in Asia, its causes and consequences.

    Although the concept itself is fuzzy, recent scholarship has made some significant contributions to the understanding of populism. We follow a narrow definition of the concept and understand it as a mobilization strategy, which uses ideas that divide society into two homogenous and antagonistic camps: the “pure people” and the “corrupt elite” (Mudde 2004; Müller 2016). We can distinguish between classical, right-wing (ethno-nationalist), neoliberal and leftwing populism. Often, populism as a “thin ideology” is combined with elements of nationalism or socialism. The causes and effects of the rise of populist movements and parties are subject to intense debate: structuralist explanation such as economic insecurity, delayed modernization or uneven globalization stand next to culturalist assumptions, e.g. the cultural backlash thesis, that is the “retro reaction by once-predominant sectors of the population to progressive value change” (Inglehart/Norris 2016). For Europe, the research on the rise of populist parties has stressed the changes brought by economic globalization, which has left the working class in Europe open to appeals of radical right parties, most of which attract their followers with an anti-immigrant discourse and a conservative and religious value set (Bornschier and Krise 2012: Kitschelt 1994; Kriesi et al. 2012). For Latin America, scholars have emphasized the role of economic crisis and the worsening of income inequality after progressed neoliberal reforms in the 1980s and the lack of political representation on the left, which created a demand for populist parties. Others point to the weakness of democratic governance in developing countries, where corruption is widespread and systematic and provides fertile ground for populist movements. The effects of populism are far less clear, both for domestic and international politics. While most observers agree that populism is a challenge to young democracies (Ackermann 2003), others see it as a pathological normalcy (Mudde 2010).

    Guiding Questions

    The workshop explores the following questions:

    • How can we characterize Asia’s emerging populism? What forms of populism can we identify over time?

    • What are the root causes and underlying motives for the rise (or failure) of populist leaders/movements/parties? Which social groups/classes do support populists? Which institutional factors enhance or stifle populism?

    • How do populists mobilize their followers? What is the impact of new media, fake news, altered communication styles, etc?

    • What are the effects of the rise of populists on foreign policy and domestic politics?


    Monash University , Subang Jaya




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