Populists’ divide-and-conquer tactic being tested by united democrats

Populist strongmen often continue their grip on strength not so much by restricting or arresting their opponents as by dividing them.

Now, from Hungary to Brazil, opposition leaders are forming coalitions to fight upcoming elections on shared platforms, in hopes they will find strength in unity.

Why We Wrote This

Populist strongmen often keep up on to strength by dividing their political opponents. Now, from Turkey to eastern Europe to Brazil, they are facing challenges from newly united democratic adversaries.

That sort of tactic worked last summer in Israel, where a very disparate group of parties united to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu, chief minister for over a decade. And this week, a new government was being formed in the Czech Republic, backed by a pair of opposition alliances that between them had won a majority in recent elections.

Out went Andrej Babiš, the billionaire populist premier who is facing corruption charges at home and oversea.

This strategy is also being tested in Hungary, where self-proclaimed “illiberal democrat” Viktor Orbán faces elections next year, and in Turkey, where Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has dominated politics for nearly two decades.

Perhaps the most closely watched test for populism will come next year in Brazil, when President Jair Bolsonaro goes to the surveys. He is likely to confront a challenge from leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

And what has Lula been doing in recent weeks? Conferring with allies and rivals, on both left and right, so as to build a coalition.

London

In more tranquil geopolitical times, last week’s news would barely have raised an eyebrow: A sitting government won parliamentary approval for the country’s annual budget.

however for the government in question – the doubtful coalition of mismatched parties that recently unseated Israeli chief Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after more than a decade – it was a meaningful meaningful development.

And it had implications beyond Israel. Because opposition parties in a number of other countries where democratic governance has been deteriorated by strongman populist rulers are also studying the former Israeli opposition’s playbook.

Why We Wrote This

Populist strongmen often keep up on to strength by dividing their political opponents. Now, from Turkey to eastern Europe to Brazil, they are facing challenges from newly united democratic adversaries.

It’s too early to say the tide has turned. But with election tests on the horizon in a number of European states – and in South America’s largest country, Brazil – opposition challengers are crafting strategies drawing on Israel’s experience. They are setting aside policy differences in a bid to build general fronts opposing the divisiveness, authoritarianism, thin nationalism, and, in some situations, personal corruption of entrenched populist incumbents.

This week, that approach chalked up another success, in the Czech Republic.

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