Autocratic-leaning populists — politicians who win at least relatively free and fair elections but undermine democracy upon taking office — have proliferated globally, from Hungary to the Philippines to Brazil. Several years into their tenures, some of these leaders now face increasing domestic resistance.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrives for the 19th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit, in Manila, on Nov. 13, 2017. Photo: Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images


  • The Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte has seen his approval rating drop somewhat in recent months, unrest stirred by inflation, and a Senate that's increasingly standing up to him.
  • In Hungary, massive street protests this winter have helped bring some unity to Viktor Orban’s opponents.
  • In Venezuela, tens of thousands have reportedly joined anti-government marches as Maduro’s government struggles to survive.

Yes, but: It remains to be seen how autocratic-leaning populists will respond to pushback. Most likely, they will take several tacks:

  • Stepping up attacks on the rule of law. Duterte seems increasingly enraged at his critics and has increased pressure on independent media and other checks on his government. Orban has tried to further subjugate the courts to his rule. In a particularly harsh case, Maduro may have had opponents killed.
  • Targeting international institutions. A coalition of right-leaning populist parties has joined to contest elections for the European Parliament, to be held in May, in the hopes of boosting their influence. As Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations notes, if the populist parties win enough seats, they may be able to use their power to impede the Parliament’s ability to censure European autocratic populists endangering the rule of law.
  • Doubling down on provocative policies and playing up wedge issues. Duterte has vowed to continue his brutal drug war, known for its extrajudicial killings, and promised the country more bloodshed. For nearly all autocratic-leaning populists, compromise is anathema and holding their political base critical.

What to watch: Although these leaders operate in different political systems, their responses have much in common, and might offer clues about the Trump presidency’s next two years. Back in Washington, expect few moves toward compromise, new salvos fired at U.S. institutions, and — as evident in the State of the Union — a dogged willingness to push the most controversial policies, like the border wall, even as the public tires of such ideas.

Joshua Kurlantzick is senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Pence chief of staff Marc Short tests positive for coronavirus — COVID-19 looms over White House Halloween celebrations
  2. Health: Fauci says maybe we should mandate masks if people don't wear them — America was sick well before it ever got COVID-19
  3. World: Polish President Andrzej Duda tests positive for COVID-19.

Pence chief of staff Marc Short tests positive for coronavirus

Marc Short with Katie Miller, Vice President Pence's communications director, in March. Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times via Reuters

Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday and is quarantining, according to a White House statement.

Why it matters: Short is Pence's closest aide, and was one of the most powerful forces on the White House coronavirus task force.

10 hours ago - World

Opposition leader Leopoldo López flees Venezuela

Venezuelan opposition politician Leopoldo López outside the Spanish embassy in Caracas, in 2019. Photo: Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images

Leopoldo López, a former political prisoner and prominent Venezuelan opposition leader, has left the country, his Popular Will party confirmed in a statement Saturday.

Why it matters: He's been highly influential in the push to oust President Nicolás Maduro's regime and a mentor to opposition leader Juan Guaidó. He'd been in the Spanish ambassador's Caracas residence since escaping house arrest in April 2019 following a failed military uprising.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!