“Who wants to be led by someone who cannot envision what it is like to be in your shoes, especially as he or she can make policies that make life easier or harder?” (Singaporeans Prefer A Leader Who is ‘One Of Us’, Miss Charissa Yong).
It is convenient to conclude, from the reactions to a photograph of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong queuing up for chicken wings in a hawker centre two weeks ago and Miss Lee Li Lian’s by-election victory over Dr. Koh Poh Koon last year, that the kind of political leader Singaporeans want is someone who is “one of us” (ST, June 29). After all a heartlander understands the heartland, and can hence push the right policies for the man on the ground.
To some extent the proximity matters. It might be true that “[o]ne does not need to be poor to empathise with the poor’s daily struggles, but against a backdrop of widening income disparity the privileged ones from well-to-do families will be disadvantaged, especially if communication is handled poorly. Be that as it may the Singaporean politician’s actions and words must speak more loudly than their backgrounds per se. In the near future at least the electorate will still vote pragmatically, choosing the individual and party which promises the greatest socio-economic prosperity.
One for us, not necessarily one of us.
In fact the episodes of PM Lee and his chicken wings and the Punggol East by-election, more importantly, are about perception. The photographs and the social media interactions are a start. Perhaps the obligatory photographs of our political leaders doing “ordinary things” should make way for those who are more worthy of such attention. This means featuring Singaporeans who have done extraordinary things, the non-partisan volunteers who labour in the background, and the steely ones who have overcome odds to achieve success. Education Minister Heng Swee Keat’s regular posts from graduation ceremonies comes to mind.
And the media has a role too, to write less about the supposedly ordinary routines of politicians – of PM Lee’s dinner and fruits, for instance – and more about the diverse human stories across the island. The people who make Singapore, Singapore.