A little charisma can go a long way

A little charisma can go a long way

Should the People's Action Party (PAP) invest in charisma? That is a question that has reportedly been posed in the party's recent interviews with some potential candidates.

For a party that has long shunned the politics of personality and insisted on performance and policy results to win elections, that marks a significant shift in thinking.

In the PAP's search for candidates, it has historically emphasised character and ability. Its selection process is rigorous, so its leaders have said, and the net is cast wide.

But that search has at times yielded good men and women who come across as generally strong on substance but not quite as impressive in their ability to connect emotionally with the ground.

But it is likely that General Election 2011 has led to some rethinking on the part of PAP leaders.

More contestation in the political arena has put the focus on politicians' ability not just to debate and craft policy, but also on how to communicate and connect with people, and how to influence and lift others up.

What they say and how they say it at rallies have become important, so has how they carry themselves, dress and look.

At the same time, faulty policy that led to infrastructure bottlenecks, concerns over fairness in the face of a growing income gap and slowing social mobility have all raised tensions and eroded some of the trust between Government and people.

These are now being addressed. But will solving these policy issues be enough, or must charisma also be a part of the PAP's answer to slow or staunch a decline in support?

After the last GE, Ambassador-at-large Chan Heng Chee said Singapore needs its technocrats to become politicians.

Professor Chan had, in a paper in 1975 entitled Politics In An Administrative State: Where Has The Politics Gone?, argued that a depoliticised administrative state did not need a charismatic leader, but a "systems man".

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