2015 is not finished yet, but for those interested in populism it has been a remarkably “populist year”. The economic crisis is (allegedly) coming to an end, but this is not the case for populist politicians. Let’s start our journey among populist leaders precisely from the “Eastern European tiger”: Poland.
1) Vodka & Rock ‘n’ Roll
Paweł Kukiz. A right-winger with a left-wing heart, as he likes to say. A rockstar turned rightwing politician, say the media. Anti-system candidate, in practical terms. His movement scored 8.8% at the last elections in Poland, while in May Kukiz came third in the first round of the presidential elections.
He was the vocalist of the Breasts (Piersi) during the 80s and 90s, and in 2012 he launched a website to promote single-member constituencies. In a classically populist way, he claims that the Polish political structure privileges the elites at the expense of the population.
In 2010 Mr Kukiz opposed a ‘EuroPride’ homosexual march in Warsaw and was dismissive of the election in 2011 of Anna Grodzka, Poland’s first transsexual parliamentary deputy.
In three words: controversial, irresolute, engaged.
2) Potatoes for the people
Alexander Lukašenko, Belarus president in power since 1994, last August decided to distribute a video in which he harvests potatoes from his official residence’s « backyard ». They all went for charity purposes. He wanted to give an image of himself as one « of the people ». He remembered of Mussolini and his video while crowding the sheaves of wheat.
Maybe for this act of generosity the EU decided to revoke the sanctions against Belarus?
In three words: old-fashioned, rural, immovable.
3) From Russia with love
Uncontested leader, pop icon, and semi-divine entity. Its’ him: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. In a submarine in the depths of the Black Sea, and reproduced on T-shirts, cups and cover phones. All of this while Russia’s state TV reports that the weather forecast is great for bombing Syria. By the way, he spent his 63rd birthday playing hockey with NHL stars against Russian officials and tycoons. Needless to say, he won, scoring seven goals, and he was given a medal for his contribution to hockey in Russia. At the same time, always for his birthday, in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, Italian football legends played a match in his honor.
In three words: rustproof, James Bond villain, obsessed by sport.
4) Corruption and Smartphones
Exploiting a massive corruption scandal, Jimmy Morales, a former TV comedian won Guatemala’s presidential election. Ok, he is not the first comedian trying to become a politician, but his success has been astonishing and unpredictable. He received around 68 percent support. His first statement as a president has been the quintessence of populism: “As president I received a mandate, and the mandate of the people of Guatemala is to fight against the corruption that is consuming us”. His center-right party (National Convergence Front) now will have to find a way to fulfill another of Morales’ promises during the campaign: to hand out millions of smartphones to children.
In three words: evangelical Protestant, surprising, inexperienced.
5) Like father, like son : Trudeaumania part II
Considered as one of the hottest Head of States, Justin raised again the incredible enthusiasm generated by his father Pierre during the 60s and 70s. In 1972 he was just four months when the US president Richard Nixon toasted him as “the future prime minister of Canada”. Trudeau Jr has everything to be the perfect populist leader of the future. Politically he has made some “cool” promises such as the withdrawal of the Canadian military aircraft from Iraq and Syria, higher taxes for the rich and the legalization of marijuana. Obviously, between thirty ministers he appointed 15 men and 15 women. Clearly Jody Wilson-Raybould is the new Minister of Justice, the first Indigenous person to be named to that post. Clearly, Justin has a cool tattoo. And, even if he can not blame the elite because he is the elite, he can always pass himself off as “one of the people”.
In three words? Predestined, handsome, moderate.
In conclusion : this has been a great year for populist leaders, new and old. They all claim to be like “the man of the street”, like us, each of us. Sometimes even better than us, true, but essentially similar and full of empathy for us mere mortals. Fine, it is true that France’s National Front party expelled his own founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, but to the benefit of his daughter Marine, who now can clean up the image of the party from the negationist position of the father. And she can claim: “French people, I understand you because I am like you, I embody your collective will”.