Right-wing populism strikes
The right-wing populist movement has become a dominant force in western politics in the recent past. Following the Brexit and victory for Donald Trump in the US Presidential election, the surge of right-wing populist movement is facing a litmus test in wake of the Presidential election in France and upcoming German federal election on September, 2017.
In French Presidential election, Marine Le Pen, far right leader of national Front is predicted to win the first round of the election on April 23, but loose in the second round to centralist candidate, Emmanuel Marcon by opinion polls.
In March, Freedom party of the Netherlands founded by Geert Wilders has become the second largest party in the parliament by gaining more than 20 per cent vote in Dutch general election.
The manifesto of these right-wing populist parties has shaken the core institutional and plural values of western liberal democracies. The anti-establishment right-wing populist movement is bound to challenge the status quo of liberal political order for the first time in post second world war period after the demise of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco led Nazi and fascist parties.
Anti-immigration, anti-EU, anti-Islam and economic nationalism are the key ideals advocated by these parties. Sometimes, they propagate 'misinformation' or 'fake news' to create 'axis of fear' and fuel insecurities and grievances among people. There is a strong assumption among western liberals, that the spreading of 'fake news' is orchestrated by Russia trough using the means of technology.
One of the focal point of the surge of populist movement is their anti-immigration motto. Because of economic recession in 2008-14, people of western world were frustrated and angry with the governments. In the meantime, major terrorist attacks such as 9/11 and 7/7 in the beginning of the century perpetrated by illegal or temporary immigrants made people intolerable of immigrants. The negative perception about the immigrants fuelled the right-wing politics as many populist parties like UKIP of UK, Freedom Party of the Netherlands, and Tea Party movement of the US were founded in early 2000s.
Donald trump in his Presidential campaign accused migrants of stealing jobs and prescribed building a wall in US-Mexico border to prevent illegal trespassing. Ultimately, his anti-immigration policy paid off as he managed to impress ultra-conservative catholic and evangelical voters as well as college educated voters aspiring for a less competitive job market. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel received backlashes after announcing to receive refugees from war-torn Syria.
Another key characteristic of these right-wing populist parties is the promotion of economic nationalism. They are the promoter of 'mercantilist' or protectionist economic policies. UKIP, National Front, Freedom Party all are anti-European Union parties.
UKIP had the front-line role for 'Leave' campaign in Brexit referendum. Donald Trump repealed TPP agreement after electing as the President. He deliberately repeated that he was not a supporter of 'free trade' and US got unfair treatment by codifying treaties like TPP or TTIP. These mercantilist policies are getting popularity among people because of the false promise of creating more jobs by populist leaders as well as ultra-nationalistic or patriotic message circulated by them.
Growing 'Islamophobia' is another essential factor which led to the surge of right-wing populism. After the 9/11 attacks, Islam is judged as an 'evil' religion to a sect of western population without knowing the correct interpretations of the religion. Subsequent terror attacks carried out by Islamist fundamentalists and the rise of Islamic state consolidated the general fear and hatred against Islam.
On the other hand, Muslim population in Europe is growing faster than Christian population because of high birth rate and immigration. A report of Pew Research Centre predicted that Muslim population in Europe will be doubled by 2050 up to more than 10% of total population. Populist parties took the distressing position of the Christians about the growing number of Muslims and fear of 'Islamisation' as their political advantage.
Promotion of 'sectarian politics' was prominent in the manifesto of some populist parties too. Like, Donald Trump who is pro-life and against abortion as well as a believer of second amendment 'Right to keep and bear arms', which cemented his strong position in the Presidential race among conservative Christians.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India used his ultra-nationalist and pro-Hindu policy to bring a 'saffron storm' in state election of Uttar Pradesh, biggest province of India in February-March. Without giving a single nomination to Muslim candidate in a state in which 20% of the population are Muslim, Modi and his BJP party sent a clear signal that, BJP would not 'appease minorities.'
Populist parties of Europe and America promote each other in direct and indirect manners. Russian involvement in the US Presidential election is one of them. Liberals believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin himself authorized the hacking of DNC and influence the election.
Donald trump himself is a promoter of Brexit and against EU. Former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage visited the US during Trump's Presidential campaign. French far right leader, Marine Le Pen visited Russia to meet Putin in March which invoked amid suspicion of Russian involvement in French and German elections.
Another integral part of populist surge which could not be ignored is the leadership quality of the leaders. The charismatic leadership of Donald Trump played a 'pivotal role' in his victory. To listen what liberals would say 'outright lies' in his campaign speeches, millions of people attended his campaign rallies.
With growing Islamist and Christian fundamentalism, the European and American politics is passing a period of substantial changes. The success of Donald Trump will be 'litmus test' for further growth of far-right populism in Europe and beyond. Therefore, it is apparent that the reality of right-wing populism could not be ignored how xenophobic, misogynistic or bigoted as it is.
F M Arafat is independent researcher