A thorough understanding of the effects of political trust, and how it can be built, is essential to combat the rise of populism and anti-system parties, and would be valuable for democracy assistance more broadly. Despite this, political trust remains poorly understood.
By Devin O’Shaughnessy, WFD Director of Programmes
On 18-20 June, WFD supported a conference on populism in partnership with International IDEA, Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, OSCE/ODIHR and REPRESENT. The event, held in the Belgian Senate, saw leaders from politics, civil society and academia from across the world gather to shape a “Global Agenda for the Renewal of Representation”, a guide aimed at reinvigorating the relationship between people and democracy.
What stuck with me most was the diversity of views around the table on what populism actually is, whether or not it was a dangerous trend or a flash in the pan, and what impact populism in Europe and the U.S. was having in the developing world. I felt there was strong consensus that our democratic institutions needed to be better – more open, more representative, more accountable, and more participatory – or people would continue to lose faith in them. I was also inspired by the passion in the room for defending the principles of liberal democracy, of the importance of educating people, especially the younger generation, of what democracy protects, defends, and promotes: human rights, freedom, protection of the vulnerable.
Yet, despite these positives, I was also concerned that we weren’t addressing the elephant in the room, the main driving force at the core of populism. Despite the economic growth that democracy, globalisation, and free trade brings, Western democracies have failed to prevent these gains from going primarily to a narrow elite, the 1% and multinational corporations. “Whose GDP?” was the response of an average citizen when asked why she was upset with her government despite delivering decades of steady GDP growth.