Carvajal: Populism

·2 min read

For a highly educated professional, Vice President Leni Robredo’s analysis of the origins of populism and her push-backs for it are appallingly frivolous.

Populism is a political leader’s strategy of appeasing people who live in the margins of society. It does not rise, as she claims, from people’s feelings of being excluded but is born of the leader’s perception that appeasing these folks might not be a bad idea for getting their trust and support during and after elections.

Populism can in fact go either of two ways. One is to appease with fleeting alleviations of people’s misery as what all administrations, past and present, have done. The other is to implement core programs that enable marginalized peoples to enjoy mainstream (not just trickles) social benefits. Mao did it in China, Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore and Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan. We haven’t had this type of populist leader yet.

In the Philippines, people feel excluded because they in fact live in society’s frayed edges and have indeed been systemically marginalized. But not even this fact of their exclusion gives rise to populism. Pushed to the limit it instead makes people rise up against populist leaders who merely do touch-ups on the tattered canvas of their lives.

Thus, Ms. Robredo’s prescriptions for populism are as shallow as her analysis of it. People’s feeling of exclusion cannot be assuaged by having “democratic leaders communicate in a more sincere manner” or by “avoiding ideological debates.”

The simple but hard to do answer to exclusion is to give all sectors of society a voice in government (through proportionate representation and accreditation of political parties as public institutions funded by government) and a higher quality of economic life through equitable distribution of the country’s economic wealth.

Voice in government, however, Ms. Robredo ought to know, is not possible in a political structure that allows only the wealthy to run and win high office.

Higher quality of life is not possible in a neo-liberal economy where capitalists exclusively decide how much labor gets as compensation for their contribution to the productivity of an enterprise.

Political participation is not possible in a culture where the superior is always right and the subordinate merely obeys without question, not in a snobbish society that merely condescends on those who live in its peripheries.

That leads to only one conclusion. The excluded must unite for entry into the decision-making halls of government. The peaceful way is, with the help of woke brother-sister Filipinos, to form a political party that would advocate for the reform of the country’s social structures from elitist and exclusive to populist and inclusive.