Recent examples in Central-Eastern Europe (Poland and Hungary) also illustrate how key democratic institutions, such as the rule of law and the judiciary have been undermined, alongside non-governmental organisations and political parties in Hungary. The latest Freedom House Report from 2019 further demonstrates the bleak picture from Hungary, with declining scores for freedom of speech and the press. At the same time, the polarising and divisive rhetoric adopted by Presidents Trump in the United States and Bolsonaro in Brazil further highlight the rising pattern of authoritarianism, within modern democratic countries.
The centre right: immigration & identity politics
In a recent article, my co-authors and I argued that ‘mainstream’ centre right parties in Europe sought to benefit electorally from the 2015–2018 European refugee crisis through contesting the key issue of immigration with radical right parties and adopting more right-wing anti-immigration positions. In contrast, we also found that mainstream centre left parties do not tend to adopt such a strategy during this electoral period.
In Western Europe, centre right parties such as the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) in the Netherlands under Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the recent Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) coalition government with the PRR Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) and the New Flemish Alliance Party (N-VA) in Belgium (Flanders) highlight how some centre right positions have shifted further right on the political spectrum, particularly on key socio-cultural issues such as immigration and integration. A similar electoral strategy was also adopted by ‘mainstream’ centre right parties during the 2008–2013 economic crisis in Europe.
However, by shifting further right on immigration, centre-right parties may have opened up a ‘Pandora’s box’ and brought the ideology of the far right into the political mainstream. This strategy could benefit the centre right in the short-term, but it will more likely aid the far-right more in the long-term.
The future of liberal democracy is under threat
The future of liberal democracy in the West appears to be under threat, from both ‘mainstream’ political parties and far-right insurgents alike. My colleague from CARR, Dr. Valerio Alfonso Bruno and I recently wrote in Rantt Media that:
“Despite political leaders such as President Trump being a Republican and arguably part of the ‘political establishment’, the President’s language and policies have often come under criticism for resembling far-right discourse (with a focus on nativism, authoritarianism, and populism) particularly that of anti-political establishment rhetoric, since entering the Oval Office in January 2017. President Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his presidency to date have also arguably led to a significant erosion of liberal democracy. Paradoxically, this ‘reverse wave’ has been brought about by traditional ‘mainstream’ parties on the centre right and not by far-right parties themselves.”
Therefore, former ‘mainstream’ centre right parties such as Fidesz in Hungary alongside the Law and Justice Party (PiS) in Poland have shifted further right and now resemble fully-fledged populist radical right parties in their ideology. This so-called ‘reverse wave’ of liberal democracy is an alarming problem that goes beyond advanced democracies such as the United States and is symptomatic in global politics, particularly in Central-Eastern European countries that have newer democracies, such as Hungary and Poland, alongside Brazil in Latin America.