The Rising Spectre of Populism

The Guardian ran this headline last week:

‘He’s not a populist, he’s popular’: Nikol Pashinyan becomes Armenian PM.

For some context, the article is about the change of leadership in Armenia and the quote within the headline comes from one of the new PM’s allies.

Notice the defensive edge to the declaration. Would such a statement have made it to the headlines a few years ago? I’m not so sure. It would have been safe to assume that a person elected to lead a country enjoyed significant support from the general populace. This is no longer the case. Perhaps we have Donald Trump to thank for this. After all, he managed to get elected despite riding a wave of divisive politics and losing the popular vote.

The more pertinent question would be to ask if this trend is here to stay. If, going forward, being popular would no longer be enough for politicians to stake a claim to widespread support and legitimacy; they would also have to dissociate themselves from the spectre of populism.

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