Dutertismo vs Jacindamania
Since their assumption to office, the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have made international headlines for changing their nation’s political landscapes.
With his election in 2016, Duterte is the first leader from Mindanao to occupy Malacañang, which has long been dominated by the political elite in “imperial Manila.” Ardern, meanwhile, is credited for the remarkable turnaround of her Labour Party at the 2017 general elections after years of dwindling public support.
Their meteoric rise to power is attributed to their unique political persona. Duterte is viewed as the antielite candidate who promised to change things for a people already frustrated with the gridlock, inefficiency and corruption of Philippine politics. His macho image
and folksy charisma have endeared him to the masses. Ardern, on the other hand, is seen as a refreshing alternative in the lineup of greying men that still dominate New Zealand politics. Her charming and relaxed demeanor has captivated national attention.
While both share phenomenal popularity, their leadership styles are strikingly different. As the oldest person to become president at 71, Duterte exhibits some form of benevolent paternalism as the “father of the nation” in a hierarchical society. His autocratic tendencies puts him in the league of strongman leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the United States’ Donald Trump.
As the youngest female prime minister at 37, Ardern reflects a different style—consensus-based and empathetic leadership that fits well in a multicultural society. She is a welcome addition to the group of “rock-star” politicians that include Canada’s Justin Trudeau and France’s Emmanuel Macron, who use their youthful appeal to promote liberal ideals.
Their sensational rise to power also reflects their distinctive brand of politics. Duterte’s unorthodox style of governance is described as “Dutertismo,” which focuses on drastic actions to solve the nation’s chronic problems. His campaign slogan of “change is coming” tapped on the public’s collective frustration over chronic government ineptitude in addressing the people’s needs. His “war on drugs” is a display of firm execution of policies despite its blatant disregard for the rule of law. While his policies still have domestic support, Duterte’s draconian measures have gained global condemnation over allegations of extrajudicial killings.
Meanwhile, Ardern’s political superstardom is dubbed “Jacindamania,” emphasizing its “relentless positivity” based on her youthful idealism. Following the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch on March 15, Ardern’s humane and compassionate response caught the world’s attention, particularly due to the absence of any fear-mongering rhetoric in her words that many others often utter after a tragedy. Her display of moral leadership not only reduced domestic cynicism over her capabilities, but also earned her global praise, which gave pride to New Zealand.
Juxtaposing Duterte and Ardern’s leadership provides an interesting conversation on the kind of politics that are
currently on offer. On the one hand, Duterte’s populist politics propagates the oppositional thinking of “us versus them,” on a polarizing antagonism between the masses and the elite, or the dangerous other (e.g., Western imperialism). On the other hand, Ardern’s restorative politics appears to seek to heal rather than sow hatred, and pursues integration rather than entrench divisions.
It is uncertain whether Ardern’s restorative politics and compassionate leadership will spread around the world — in the same manner that populism and authoritarian leaders like Duterte suddenly made a comeback and became recent political trends. It is therefore important to take note of how Ardern’s leadership and politics will continue to play out in her government, which should go beyond responding to a tragedy, to administering the boring realities of day-to-day governance and policymaking. Her expressions of kindness and trust in humanity may be scorned as naïve slogans in a political world of soulless pragmatism. But the remarkable impression she has made of her leadership and politics can provide us an alternative roadmap toward a more positive “change.”
Andrea Chloe Wong is completing her doctoral studies in political science at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.