Right Wing Populism: Threatening the World Order

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Right Wing Populism: Threatening the World Order

Right Wing Populism: Threatening the World Order

By Hamza Ali Shah

Executive Summary:

Historians will denigrate the human race for failing to learn from the mistakes of the past. When Donald Trump won the presidential election in November of 2016, it seemed like an irregularity in the system. The right wing populist leader who espoused anti-establishment and exclusionary rhetoric, was supposed to be an example of temporary success, and lessons were supposed to be acquired. Yet fast-forward 24 months, and the Brazilian controversial figure, Jair Bolsonaro, who is a proud subscriber of Trump’s ideology, has just won the Brazilian presidential election, as it becomes detectable that the right wing surge is monopolizing the political arena.


When Hitler’s Nazi Party rose to prominence in the early 1920’s, significant pressure was exerted on the traditional mainstream parties as Hitler’s ‘Germany Above All’ approach generated momentous support. At the time, Hitler’s voice and his ideas were considered radical and represented a deviation from the usual standard of politics. Yet such tendencies have become routine in the contemporary era.

Accordingly, Brazil is the latest country to be swept along by this surge. Observers outside Brazil were shocked by the results and questioned how a candidate with such extreme views could command broad popular support. However, there should be no dismay, because candidates shaped in such mould have become the new normal.

Undeniably, Bolsonaro epitomises the word right wing. He is a Trump loving, establishment hating and homophobic sentiment transmitting congressman. He has heaped praised on Chilean dictator Pinochet, expressed support for the torturing of dissidents, openly expressed contempt for human rights and called for political opponents to be shot, earning him the label of ‘the most misogynistic, hateful elected official in the democratic world’ (do Vale, 2018).

However, he built a successful campaign on angst over rising violent crime, anger over repeated corruption scandals and an efficient social media operation. He has pledged to re-establish law and order and to eliminate corruption in any way, taking advantage of the fears of voters who despair for their security and are under pressure from the deteriorating economic crisis, broken promises and bureaucracy.

Hence, the Brazilian election illustrates the extent to which the electorate’s minds have been altered. There is a comprehensive rejection of the traditional political parties. In fact, in Brazil, a survey conducted by the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics exhibited that amongst the Brazilian population, only 25% of citizens trusted their federal government, and only 18% trusted Congress.

Thus, in a country plagued with severe recession and political turmoil, and a disgruntled population who clearly have no faith in their politicians or government institutions, it should not come as a surprise when someone in the frame of Bolsonaro appears and exploits the voters feelings of disdain, and consequently assembles enough support to win an election.

Adverse sentiments held by citizens in their respective states administer the green light for voices that provide answers to take centre stage. Problematically, the voices with purpose, rigour and intent that are emerging are predominantly from the right side of the political spectrum.

Indeed, Brazil’s voters appear to have exchanged the politics of hope for ‘anti-politics’ – the politics of anger, rejection and despair.

Such a scenario mirrors the plight of the 2016 American general election; thus, the situation is perfect for President Donald Trump. He expressed his delight at the victory of Bolsonaro, as he engaged in an ‘excellent call’ with the right-wing politician.  Likewise, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulated Bolsonaro on his victory and his intention to transfer the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in what will supposedly initiate a great friendship with the two states (Taylor, 2018).

Undeniably, when the US and Israel endorse a leader whose victory is labelled the return of fascism (Fogel, 2018), the omen becomes clear that radical transformation is underway.

However, it is not limited to just Brazil. Discontent is rising across several countries and paving the way for populism to capitalise. There is a robust sense of disillusionment that has engulfed a plethora of states. Much of this derives from the challenges that have emerged in the post-Cold War era. Immigration, refugees, Islam, the declining power of the nation state amid supranational integration, gender equality, and challenges to the traditional family unit have gradually crept up the agenda (Goodwin, 2018).

Yet the methods of adaption in dealing with those issues by traditional parties has not displayed the level of efficiency that garners support. In fact, this year, when Ipsos MORI asked people whether they felt that ‘traditional parties and politicians’ cared about people like them, the replies in Europe were sobering—47 percent of people in Germany, 51 percent in Italy, 57 percent in Britain, 64 percent in Hungary, and 67 percent in France felt that they had been abandoned by the old guard (Goodwin, 2018).

Swiftly dissipating are the concepts of cohesion, integration, equality, religious toleration and rationality. Instead, aggressive nationalism has taken centre stage.

The latest developments in Germany reinforce this. Angela Merkel recently told senior figures in the Christian Democrats party (CDU) that she would not seek re-election as party chair in December. This increases the likelihood she will not finish her current term, and chances are whilst she may not be in power by 2021, neither will her party.

Much of this is down to the meteoric rise of the right wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AFD). Indeed, in the 2017 general election AFD announced themselves on the political stage. The party that proclaims to fight the ‘invasion of foreigners’ amassed 13.3% of the vote in a remarkable performance that simultaneously crippled the traditional parties. The two centrist parties, the centre right CDU and the centre left SPD scored their worst electoral results (Mudde, 2017).

AFD even recorded more votes from non-voters than any other party combined did. The prime focus of the election was immigration, thus it comes as no surprise that Merkel underperformed given her policy towards refugees, which was launched in 2015 when she opened up Germany’s borders to allow a wealth of them to enter.

Strikingly, polls exhibit that from those who voted AFD, 89% thought Merkel’s immigration policies ignored the ‘concerns of the people’, 85% wanted strong national borders and 82% thought Merkel had reached her pinnacle, and change was paramount (Mudde, 2017).

Suggestions are that much of aggrieved feeling that had stirred the German population was directed at Merkel and her laudable policies, in what is a tangible example of the lack of support that centrist parties are receiving.

In fact, research suggests that opposition to the centrist parties is what is yielding support for AFD, as opposed to stalwart support for the party itself. Nevertheless, since their chief concerns revolve around immigration, such an agenda resonates with the general German population.

This is accentuated by the latest polls conducted in Germany, which stipulate that AFD are enjoying a record high level of support whereas endorsement for Merkel’s conservative bloc is at a record low.

Critics have reprimanded them abundantly domestically and externally because of the Nazi undertones in their rhetoric, but the sentiments they convey are in terms that are engendering the nation’s interests, hence the profound rise in support.

Exceedingly, the symptoms of this relentless right wing wave are proliferating at an expeditious rate. Sweden is the latest representation of that notion, where the Social Democrats had their worst showing for more than a century, while the centre-right Moderates fell to their second-worst result since the late 1980s.

Meanwhile, the national populist Sweden Democrats reached a record high, and the combined share of the vote for the two major parties dropped to just 48 percent, the lowest since Sweden’s party system reorganized itself in the late 1970s (Goodwin, 2018).

Such patterns are conspicuous in several European countries. It is distinctly discernible that a clear erosion of bonds that once robustly existed between citizens and parties are in steep decline.

Italy’s general election in March 2018 gave birth to a triumphant win for the two right wing populist movements. With no party winning via a majority, an unsettling marriage of convenience was agreed upon recently as they formed a government. The Five-Star and The League both vehemently oppose immigration and both feel their country is buckling under the weight of the migrant crisis, with one of their foremost policies being the expulsion of 500,000 migrants that have entered Italy illegally (Donadio, 2018).

Therefore, it is unmistakable that a multitude of European countries and their citizens are now viewing there relative state of affairs via an exclusionary and resolute nationalistic lens, which plays right into the hands of the right-wing populists who have capitalised on the political vacuum and commandeered support.

Moreover, Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon, suggested that the American and indeed global electorate is dividing between nationalists and cosmopolitans. This was underscored in a 2017 survey that established that fears about immigration and cultural displacement are the most powerful factors in deciding support for leaders around the world (Traub, 2018).

This explains the prodigious support Bannon has received regarding The Movement, the non-profit organisation he hopes to execute, which he hopes will set up a foundation to boost far-right growth in Europe. He asserted that Europe has played host to decades of integration, but the time has come for change, which he hopes to be an architect of, as he believes that ‘right wing populist nationalism’ is the future of Europe (Stubley, 2018).

Importantly, the former Breitbart editor has accumulated significant support for his cause, from several European states. Hungary, Italy, Serbia and even factions from France and the UK have championed Bannon’s idea, including former Mayor of London and foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. This illustrates the extent to which right wing populist and nationalistic sentiments are growing in relevance.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently warned against this very surge of populism and called on Europe to ‘resist’ the political tendencies that are placing the continent at risk (Der Burchard, 2018).

Ostensibly, the warning may have arrived too late. The dark clouds have already gathered, and a ferocious storm is well under way. In the 1920’s, Europe was dominated by economic crises, divided by fears and riddled with nationalist assertions as anarchy unfolded. Less than a century later and those same patterns are emerging and concurrently enhancing the spread of right-wing movements.

Populism is here to stay; there is no doubt about it. The ramifications have the potential to be supremely destructive. As liberalism and the principles it advocates slowly erode, a vigorous, fascist-like wave of populism is transforming the dynamic of the political arena in a manner that may extend to revolutionizing the existing world order.


At a time when the Chancellor of a country that displayed sympathy for an outrageous humanitarian disaster and opened her borders for refugees, is declining in popularity, a right-wing politician who openly admires torture and stringent rule, has leapt to power and received several endorsements. The signs are ominous. Not only are right-wing populists amplifying in influence, they are displaying an immense level of unity regarding a phenomenon that can have sweeping ramifications for the future direction of the political stage. Far-reaching change is on the horizon.


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