In his National Day Rally Speech, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong gave a candid assessment of his successor.
The public persona of Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, he said, is that of a no-nonsense, uncompromising and tough minister. He hopes DPM Lee would let his softer side show, he said.
Mr Gohs intention was to highlight the importance for a leader to be approachable.
Very often, whether a leader is seen as such is a result of the perception by the masses of how he relates to and mingles with the people.
A two-way communication exists between government leaders and the people.
A leader who has an image of being close to the people can get them to better understand and accept a new policy. On the other hand, the people will be encouraged to speak their minds when the leader is open to constructive suggestions. The public will be a lot more forthcoming with their views.
Feedback on a wide range of issues will in turn help the government keep its fingers on the pulse of the people.
While the public image of a leader is important, whether or not he is popular, in the long-term interests of the nation, is much less crucial than whether or not he is capable and competent.
For instance, a painting with an inferior frame often has a direct and negative impact on the viewers opinion of the artwork. But such an impression is not permanent and can be changed with a better frame. The true worth of the painting will depend ultimately on whether it is indeed a masterpiece.
The qualities of a leader, including moral character and self-cultivation, is shown in his sense of mission and political commitment to the nation. He must be farsighted, must persevere in what he believes in and not be sidetracked by temporary setbacks.
Knowledge is the basis of a leaders ability and experience is the sum of precious lessons learnt over time. But to keep up with the fast-changing world, a leader also needs to have the foresight to predict what may go wrong as well as the courage to correct it.
The expertise and experience of a leader cannot be gained overnight. They are acquired over a period of time and are genuine qualities that cannot be faked.
A spin doctor can help a leader create an image that will appeal to the people, but cannot turn the leader into one who has the required ability and competence to lead.
I am no expert on politics and I have not drawn my observations from books on politics or theories by academics.
With advances in information technology, we are now able to see clearly for ourselves political developments in the region via the Internet and television coverage, as if they are happening right before our eyes.
While there are many positive lessons to be gained, it is also not uncommon to see political leaders, for personal or party interests, wasting precious resources, time and energy squabbling or behaving in an absurd manner.
Singaporeans who witness all these often exclaim： “Luckily our leaders are different！ Luckily this did not happen in Singapore！”
Political events in different places have served as a point of reference for us to understand what qualities we should look for in a leader. They have also prompted me to express my views.
It is inevitable that a new leader needs to make adjustments in a political succession. The people will also need time to get used to a new leader. With a consensus on the way forward and a tolerant and understanding attitude, this should not be a problem.
·The writer is a local commentator. Translated by Yap Gee Poh.