Populists in East and Southeast Asia generally refrain from invoking anti-migrant and anti-minority sentiments as part of their mobilizational strategies. This differentiates them from “exclusionary” populists in Europe, even though many Asian countries are diverse societies with long histories of migration and ethnic chauvinism. Because the categories of peoplehood that were set alongside the onset of mass politics at independence remain salient today, they constrain contemporary Asian populists’ rhetorical and mobilizational strategies—even in Southeast Asia’s diverse societies. The Asian experience shows the flexibility of identity, nation, and membership in contemporary populism.
Thomas Pepinsky is Professor of Government at Cornell University and Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the coauthor, most recently, of ‘The Trump Presidency and American Democracy: A Historical and Comparative Analysis’ (Perspectives on Politics, 2019) and “Elections as Causes of Democratization: Evidence from Southeast Asia” (Comparative Political Studies, 2019).
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