Character important gauge of ability to lead and serve

People queueing to vote during the Bukit Batok by-election on May 7, 2016.
People queueing to vote during the Bukit Batok by-election on May 7, 2016. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Now that the Bukit Batok by-election is over, perhaps it is time to revisit one of the key themes of the campaign - the character of a political candidate ("Character takes centre stage in battle for Bukit Batok"; May 2).

While it is not honourable and wise to engage in character assassination, it is important to assess the character of political candidates.

Character is part of the key qualities of a leader, and it drives his motives, means and ends.

It helps him develop the right commitment, credibility, cohesiveness, compassion and competence to serve the people and society.

It also helps him develop the capacity to connect, cooperate and collaborate with different people to co-create solutions for the greater good of the country.

In addition, character helps a leader earn the right to lead and contribute to building a good image for Singapore and Singaporeans - locally and overseas.

How then should we assess political candidates to find out if their character can be an asset or a liability to our future?

If character is shaped from a young age and is relatively unchangeable, political candidates can be evaluated based on their track record for doing good and doing better over time - or lack thereof.

They can also be evaluated based on how they respond to past experiences.

The values that they have developed from these experiences can help them win or repel the hearts and minds of voters.

By their words and actions, political candidates can earn or destroy affection, trust, loyalty, respect and the social compact with their targeted constituencies.

Singapore needs and deserves leaders who will stand up for what is right and will correct wrongs. If not, we will open the door to having the wrong leaders to lead and influence the nation and our future.

On the other hand, if political candidates have committed wrongdoings in the past, they should be responsible, honest and brave enough to acknowledge them and apologise.

They should pay restitution and offer due justice to aggrieved parties.

We should continue to set high standards for the character of political candidates.

Their character can contribute to achieving prosperity and progress for our nation.

Patrick Liew Siow Gian (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2016, with the headline 'Character important gauge of ability to lead and serve'. Print Edition | Subscribe