Over the past decade, illiberal populist leaders from across the political spectrum have won elections and taken power in many of the world’s biggest democracies, from the United States to India, the Philippines, Turkey and Brazil. Once in office, they have often undermined democratic norms and institutions, including the media, the judiciary, the civil service, and, in many cases, free and fair elections themselves.
The rise of illiberal populism is a major reason why the annual “Freedom in the World” reports, published by the global watchdog organization Freedom House, have charted 14 straight years of global democratic regression. (I serve as a consultant for several chapters on Southeast Asia in these reports.) The Economist Intelligence Unit’s most recent Democracy Index found that global freedom was at its lowest point since the index was started in 2006. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in further harm to democracy worldwide, as many illiberal leaders, particularly in developing countries, have taken advantage of the crisis to crush political opposition and grab more power