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Although it is difficult to find a consensus definition of populism, we can bank on the most referred to definitions by some of the most trusted dictionaries and scholars. According to Oxford Dictionary, “populism is a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups”. According to some prominent American scholars, populism refers to popular engagement of “the people” in political decision-making. Populists typically accuse “the elite” of placing their own interests, and often the interests of other groups—such as large corporations, foreign countries, or immigrants—above the interests of their own nation. Populist parties and social movements are often led by charismatic figures, who present themselves as “the voice of the people”. By manoeuvring the power of the people, populist politicians try to overturn established norms of political conduct, especially through oratory that whips up passions of crowds, exaggerating dangers to arouse fears, lying for emotional effect, or other rhetoric that tends to drown out reasoned deliberation and encourage fanatical popularity. So the populist politicians can misuse democracy to demolish democracy. The new wave of populism in many democratic countries has emerged as a threat to real spirit of liberal democracy in his book The People vs. Democracy, Yascha Mounk asserts that the rise of populism is owed to a number of structural reasons, including the stagnation of living standards for ordinary people, rapid cultural and demographic changes, and the rise of social media. The populist leaders who succeed in grabbing power soon morph into authoritarian rulers and strangle democracy. This essay will investigate the politics of populism in a number of democratic countries, and find out how populism is a threat to the true spirit of democracy. [290]

The true democracy is when the people of a country are educated enough to understand the importance of their vote to elect the best persons to form government; and they are free to think, express their opinions, and participate in political activities. As they say “democracy is a culture rather than a process, 

true democracy is not possible if the people of a country are not democratic in their approach in general, if democratic values do not exist in society and if personal freedoms are compromised. Now, the problem with populism is that the populist leaders challenge the existing political order of their countries not because it is really bad for the people, but because the populist politicians find no other way to grab power than manipulating the power of the people by whipping up passions of crowds, raising storm in a teacup of ‘unsatisfactory’ economy, slow pace of progress and viewing foreign countries as threat to national security. Using rhetoric that drowns out reasoned deliberation the populist leaders make the gullible people — ‘the people’— disgruntled with the existing political structures becoming a great threat to conventional democracy. [190]


Visuals of highly charged followers of Donald J. Trump storming the Capitol Hill on 6 January 2021 to protest against the election of Joe Biden not only horrified the liberal Americans, but also all the democratic people in the outside world. Before January 6, nobody had expected that a mob of insurrectionists could so easily enter “the People’s House”. The mob was incited by the incumbent President of the United States because he did not accept the legitimacy of an election he had lost. He has kept clashing with democratic institutions over the course of his presidency. Whenever he ran up against the limits of his constitutional authority, he balked at the idea that somebody else—a judge, a bureaucrat, or a member of Congress—could tell him what to do. In his mind, only he had the right to speak for the country. American democracy being very strong survived the challenge, but Trumpism is inflicting heavy blows to it making a very strong evidence to prove that populism is a threat to democracy. [175]



Hungary underwent a democratic transition after 1989, following four decades of communist rule. The country became a full-fledged NATO member in 1999 and joined the European Union in 2004. Until 2010, Hungary was a prime example of a successful democratic and economic transformation. However, since 2010, Hungary has gradually become a competitive authoritarian state where democratic institutions exist in theory only. The stark changes in the status of Hungary’s democracy since 2010 coincide with transformations instituted by Fidesz-KDNP after the party gained parliamentary supermajority. Fidesz created a political system, which is completely tailored to its political interests and ensures the party’s control over politics and the public discourse. Political competition and pluralism have been hollowed out by rules benefiting the governing party and putting opposition parties at a disadvantage. Moreover, by appointing party loyalists to leading positions, formerly independent institutions, such as the Constitutional Court, the public prosecutor, the President of the Republic, the Media Council, the State Audit Office etc., which ideally function as checks and balances, have been transformed into bodies executing Fidesz’s political will. Populism has completely routed liberal democracy in Hungary. [185]



Political scientists agree that a populist politician uses his charisma and, though he believes he is saying the right thing, gives false hope to people. Imran Khan, who won cricket world cup in 1992, is the most charismatic politician of Pakistan. He is a populist politician by all standards of populism. He came into power after general elections of 2018. He has established Pakistan’s largest and most efficient social media team to work day in and day out to propagate his stylish pictures and visuals of his smile, his gait, his eating simple food, his wearing of Pakistani dress, and any style that can make people fall in love with him. In his election campaign, he gave false hopes to the people that after coming into power, he would bring two hundred dollars stashed abroad back to Pakistan within twenty four hours; eradicate corruption within ninety days; generate ten million vacancies for the youth, and construct five million houses. He also claimed that he would build Pakistan’s image to a level that people from other countries would yearn to become citizens of Pakistan. He rejects the old political order and alleges all other politicians of being corrupt, enemies of ‘the people’ and even accomplices in conspiracies hatched by the enemies of Pakistan. His populism is the greatest threat to Pakistani democracy. [220]

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