Populist Authoritarian Seizure of Pandemic Emergency Powers in India and the Philippines

Leonora C. Angeles, University of British Columbia


Precarity, Possibility, and the Post Pandemic


Using key ideas of classical Frankfurt School Critical Theory, I examine how Asian populist authoritarian regimes, such as the Philippines under its President Rodrigo Duterte, seize the COVID-19 pandemic context for regime maintenance and power consolidation. I demonstrate how the pandemic unravels in the Philippines, highlighting three aspects in the political economy of development to contextualize the State’s response to COVID-19: (1) the pursuit of neoliberal economic policies that charted phenomenal economic growth rates without addressing structural socio-economic inequality; (2) the predisposing conditions of failed political promises, increased opportunities for rent-seeking and corruption, and increasing inequalities under constricted liberal democracies that gave rise to populist authoritarian leaders; and (3) combined forces of neoliberalism and populist authoritarianism, setting the stage for conflictual and contested government and public responses to the pandemic and conveniently merging pre-pandemic imperatives for power consolidation and regime maintenance. I highlight how populist authoritarianism persists during pandemics through three significant connected elements of fear-based ideologies propagated through mass media, the hetero-patriarchal family, and educational system.

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