Globally, the past decade has been marked by the twin advances of authoritarianism and populism. The two are not always linked, but in situations ranging from the Philippines and Cambodia to Hungary and Poland, politicians have leveraged populist movements to seize power. Once in office, they have begun the process of dismantling the institutions designed to check their authority and protect human rights, particularly the judiciary and the media.
The populist boom is fueled by disparate, local issues, but these often share common features, such as feelings of disenfranchisement, of being left out of a global economic boom and of discomfort at seeing familiar social orders upended. The movements these grievances generate have spurred anti-immigrant xenophobia—and, in places like Hungary and Greece, even horrifying episodes of political violence—as underlying prejudices are exploited by opportunistic politicians.
Champions of liberal democracy have often appeared hamstrung in their attempts to counter these forces, but there have been some recent successes, including the rise of the Greens across Europe and electoral setbacks for extremist parties in countries where they once seemed ascendant, such as France, Spain and the Netherlands. And in countries where centrist or right-wing parties have chosen to adopt populist policies rather than to push back against them, civil society groups have been resurgent.
WPR has covered the rise of populism and authoritarianism in detail and continues to examine key questions about what will happen next. What role will Venezuela’s political crisis play in the U.S. presidential election? Can Europe push back against illiberalism in its midst? Will the coronavirus pandemic weaken or strengthen populist movements around the world? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.
Our Most Recent Coverage
Turkey’s Challenge to the Regional Status Quo Begins in the Eastern Mediterranean
Turkey is making a major move to end the regional status quo established by the Treaty of Lausanne, and the crucible for that challenge is increasingly the Eastern Mediterranean. For many of Turkey’s neighbors and current allies in Europe, that effort is already having some significant and dangerous consequences.
Europe’s Anti-Immigrant Parties and Illiberal Leaders
The continent is a hotbed for populist movements, mostly driven by anti-immigrant sentiment. In countries where those parties have won power, particularly in the east, they have often attempted to dismantle democratic institutions.
- Why the poisoning of a Russian opposition leader is an indictment of Putin even if his responsibility is never proven, in What Navalny’s Poisoning Says About Russia’s Putin
- What pre-election protests revealed about the hunger for democracy in Belarus, in ‘It’s Not Normal for Belarus.’ Lukashenko Faces Growing Pre-Election Protests
- Why the political horizon is getting cloudy for Serbia’s authoritarian president, in In Serbia, Elections Are Normally a Charade. This Year Could Be Different
- Why Matteo Salvini, Italy’s populist standard-bearer, finds himself increasingly sidelined, in How COVID-19 Scrambled Italy’s Politics and Dented Salvini’s Appeal
Ahead of his 2016 election, Duterte won widespread support for his pledge to wage an extrajudicial war on drugs. And he has delivered. Since his election, thousands of Filipinos have been killed in the “war on drugs,” even as that campaign has masked Duterte’s other efforts to consolidate power.
- How the final two years of his term will affect Duterte’s political legacy, in As His Presidency Winds Down, Can the Philippines’ Duterte Defy History Again?
- What Duterte’s victory in congressional midterm elections means for the Philippines, in With Even Fewer Checks on His Power, Where Will Duterte Take the Philippines?
- How families of the victims of Duterte’s crackdown on drugs are seeking accountability, in Duterte’s Drug War Has Killed Thousands. Now the Victims’ Families Are Pushing Back
- How Duterte is also going after the Philippine press, in Duterte’s Supporters Join In as His Assault on the Philippine Press Escalates
Over the past decade, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone from being a model of democratic political Islam to a traditional autocrat, using a counterterrorism campaign to crack down on dissent and a failed coup as an excuse to purge political opponents. But significant electoral gains by the opposition in last year’s local elections show that Erdogan’s hold on power might not be as absolute as he thought it was.
- Why the coronavirus pandemic has strengthened Erdogan’s hand, in How COVID-19 Is Handing Erdogan a Political Lifeline in Turkey
- What a new political party launched by former allies means for Erdogan, in Turkey’s Former Economy Czar Looks to Unseat Erdogan and the AKP
- Why a major infrastructure project in Istanbul could help fuel opposition to Erdogan, in Could a Multibillion-Dollar Canal Be Erdogan’s Undoing in Turkey?
- Why the opposition will still struggle to challenge Erdogan’s hold on power despite recent electoral victories, in Turkey’s Opposition, Buoyed by Its Win in Istanbul, Faces a Long Road Ahead
After facing a stiff electoral challenge from a united opposition in 2014, Prime Minister Hun Sen initially responded by seeking reconciliation. Since then, however, he reverted to his traditional authoritarian ways, cracking down on the now-fractured opposition to consolidate his power in elections in 2018, at the cost of his ties with Europe and the U.S.
- Why recently announced EU sanctions might not be enough to change Hun Sen’s behavior, in How Much Pressure Will the EU’s New Cambodia Sanctions Put on Hun Sen?
- Why Trump is treating Hun Sen differently than other autocrats, in Trump, Normally Cozy with Despots, Takes a Hard Line with Cambodia’s Hun Sen
- What’s behind the new fractures in Cambodia’s opposition, in Can Cambodia’s Decimated Opposition Survive a Leadership Struggle?
- What role the EU can play in pressuring Hun Sen, in The EU Steels for a Trade Fight with Cambodia Over Its Human Rights Record
Nicaragua, Venezuela and Brazil
Their individual circumstances are unique, but in each country there are concerns about how an elected leader is wielding his power.
- How Bolsonaro’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is upending his presidency, in Brazil’s Bolsonaro Is Writing His Political Obituary With COVID-19
- Why U.S. pressure has failed to unseat Venezuela’s Maduro, in How Nicolas Maduro Is Surviving ‘Maximum Pressure’ in Venezuela
- What went wrong for Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido, in Guaido’s Democratic Push Faces an Uncertain Future in Venezuela
- Why the Catholic Church is becoming a target for supporters of Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, in Catholic Churches Are Caught in the Crossfire of Nicaragua’s Political Crisis
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2019 and is regularly updated.