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The rise of populist authoritarianisms in Asia : Challenges for Peoples’ Movements

Unlike in countries that only began to become more closely integrated into the global economy in the early 1990s, and where one-party rule or military dictatorships are still being challenged by nascent pro-democracy forces (such as Cambodia and Myanmar), populist authoritarian, if not altogether fascist, groups and individuals seem to be gaining—or regaining—ground in those countries which also happen to have been more closely connected to the world market and where dictatorships had previously given way to liberal-democratic rule.
Each of these populist authoritarian or fascist forces is of course unique, a product of the particular historical conditions of their own countries. But all seem, in different degrees, to be skeptical of, if not opposed to, liberal democracy : a system in which all citizens regardless of status or religion enjoy certain rights and liberties, such as the right to choose their leaders or representatives in parliament, to organize opposition parties, and so on. All, however, appear to be committed to perpetuating the capitalist economic system : a system in which not all citizens but only a few, namely the capitalists or the large property-owners—the owners of land, factories, machines, and all other things needed for production—enjoy the right to make the most important economic decisions.
How should we respond to the emergence—or re-emergence—of this political force ? What can we do to advance our visions under the increasingly difficult conditions that they are putting in place ? This paper seeks to catalyze and provoke discussions on these questions by first situating the rise of this political force in its broader historical context, and by making some initial observations about their social bases and projects, largely using the Philippines and India as illustrative examples to invite comparisons with other countries. It must be emphasized here that while many of the countries in South and Southeast Asia have ended up with authoritarian regimes and have had, as a central cause of this the articulation of neoliberal policies with local power structures, the trajectory of each country towards authoritarianism is unique.

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Les opinions exprimées et les arguments avancés dans cet article demeurent l'entière responsabilité de l'auteur-e et ne reflètent pas nécessairement ceux du CETRI.