Tetet Nera-Lauron: Different but same-same? Movement building in times of right-wing populism

Tetet Nera-Lauron is the Program Manager of IBON International’s Climate Justice Program, coordinator of the Peoples’ Movement on Climate Change, representative to the Building Block on Climate Finance, and facilitation group member of Climate Justice Now and the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice. She is also one of the co-chairs of CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, an open platform that unites civil society around the world in the subject of development effectiveness. She lives in the Philippines.

We find ourselves in very strange and difficult times now —with the rise of protectionist governments and rhetoric; blatant xenophobia, sexism and discrimination; governments turning their concerns more and more inward (and backward, in most instances) to the detriment of the world at large, and power remaining in the hands of the wealthy elite and corporations. And in communities around the world we see this manifest as environmental destruction, violation of human rights, privatization of public goods, and even further decreases in access to public services. In these conditions—in these times—it’s sometimes hard to see even a ray of hope at the end of this tunnel.

Populism, by definition, is “a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic camps, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite,’ and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people”.

Populism in itself is not a dangerous thing. It is the combination of populism and a host ideology that one should be weary of.

While the world is deeply worried about what is happening in for example USA, waves of various populisms appeared in Southeast Asia in the wake of the Asian economic crisis of 1997, which also signaled the abrupt end to the spectacular rise of the so-called ‘Asian tigers.’

What we saw were populist ‘crusaders’, who mobilized for electoral aims by using nationalism, combined with an attack on the national elites and an attack on neoliberal globalization. They were eventually elected into presidency. Many of these had relatively short and unsuccessful terms of office, like Joseph Estrada (the Philippines) Roh Moo-hyun (South Korea), Chen Shui-bian (whose “government of the people” in Taiwan collapsed just after five months), and Thaksin Shinawatra (ousted as prime minister of Thailand after large protests and a military coup).

And now, we have Rodrigo ‘Digong’ Duterte, the Philippines’ 16th president, whose overwhelming victory has changed the political landscape dramatically. He was not the smooth and suave politician; on the contrary, he was rough and crude. He promised change – and the people, tired and weary from decades of broken promises wanted change and reason to be hopeful. And while there have been some whiffs of fresh air, nine months into office is ample time to get to the fundamentals.

Read the rest in Karibu Foundation‘s March 2017 newsletter.

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