Transparency International

This Anti-Corruption Helpdesk brief was produced in response to a query from one of Transparency International’s national chapters. The Anti-Corruption Helpdesk is operated by Transparency International and funded by the European Union


Please provide an overview of how populist and authoritarian politicians have taken advantage of anti-corruption sentiment in their country. How might public anger over corruption scandals embolden politicians who are not committed to an anti-corruption agenda? How have politicians used anti-corruption as an empty promise or smoke screen for repressive policies?


This Helpdesk Answer looks at how corruption and populism interlink. First, it provides an overview of the different definitions of populism, all of which point to the fact that populism, as a political ideology and as a style of political communication, divides society into two groups: the people and the “elites”. Second, it explains how corruption becomes an inherent part of populist rhetoric and policies: populist leaders stress the message that the elites works against the interest of the people and denounce corruption in government in order to stylize themselves as outsiders and the only true representatives of the people’s interest. While the denunciations of corruption can often be considered valid, populist leaders rather than effectively fighting corruption use the populist rhetoric as a smoke screen to redistribute the spoils of corruption amongst their allies. In many cases populism even facilitate new forms of corruption. Finally, the answer uses examples from Hungary, the Philippines and the USA to show how corruption and populism relate to one another.


  1. Introduction
  2. Defining populism
  3. Corruption facilitating populism
  4. Populism facilitating corruption
  5. Orbán’s Hungary
  6. Duterte’s Philippines
  7. Trump’s USA
  8. Concluding remarks
  9. References


Niklas Kossow, [email protected]


Roberto Martínez B. Kukutschka, [email protected]




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