Indonesia's Achilles' heel: Populist authoritarianism
April-June 2017
By: Rainer Heufers

There are three factors that need to be added to the explanation of populist authoritarianism: the leaders are able to instill a nationalist pride in the electorate, a fear of aliens trying to dominate the nation and a belief that representative democracy undermines the well-being of the nation if it is not being strictly guided by a strong leader.

Russian President Vladimir Putin rules with an iron hand by having instilled a fear of Western dominance within the young Russian democracy. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s success in dismantling the fragile Turkish democracy was achieved by evoking fear of Kurdish terrorists and the Gülen movement. Prime Minister Viktor Orban claims to fight old and active communist elites in his attempt to curtail democracy in Hungary.

The fears of the electorate are basically a sense of impotence that is not only being triggered by the abusive behavior of the elite. It results from the reluctance or inability of people to engage in an increasingly complex world. Adolescents, for example, face an unprecedented amount of decisions when identifying their personal paths in life. From education, to places of residence, to lifestyle and work, there are multiple options displayed in real time on the inevitable gadgets in everyone’s hands.

At work, the situation has moved from complicated to complex. Complicated systems can only be understood with increasingly specialized skills and knowledge. Complex systems, however, are determined by a confusing number of individually evolving components that influence one another. This complexity generally escapes comprehension with just one particular set of skills and expertise. Leadership coaches teach corporate executives how to deal with a world that is determined by this increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, called VUCA in management lingo. Unfortunately, nobody teaches those who are not in highly paid leadership positions how to adapt to constant change and disruption. Left on their own and without support, it appears that women with multitasking abilities gain easier access to this new world than monotasking males.

The Sinus market research company labels those who can cope and thrive in the modern world as “high achievers,” “adaptive pragmatists” or “movers and shakers.” Others struggle and are part of the “precarious” or “escapist” milieus. Some of them have given up and withdrawn from a world they consider incomprehensible and undesirable. They are more prone to break social rules such as compassion and tolerance. Frustration with their low social status makes them inclined to blame and look down on others. Most of them are male.

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