There are already many blogs discussing the purported guilt or innocence of City Harvest’s Kong Hee. But if we take a step back, there is something important that we can learn from this episode. This is an especially important lesson for political parties:
A political party must be more than its leader
Personality-driven politics plays a big part in Singapore’s socio-political sphere. It is difficult to imagine PAP without Lee Kuan Yew, or the Worker’s Party without Low Thia Kiang, the SPP without Chiam See Tong, or the SDP without Chee Soon Juan.
The problem with personality-driven politics is that the fate of the political party is overly dependent on the fate of its leader. The allegations on Kong Hee’s integrity have a very strong effect on the public’s view of City Harvest Church. Similarly, any heavily-publicised allegations against the character and integrity of the leaders of our political parties can disproportionately affect the standing of the parties.
Even if the party leader is a paragon of virtue, other circumstances may render the leader impotent, thus leading to the decline of the party. Witness how SPP has declined along with Chiam See Tong’s health . As the saying goes, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
This is a lesson that Singapore can afford to learn from the US political spheres. In the US, the Democrats and Republican parties are able to transcend the “human faults” of Clinton’s sex scandal and George Bush’s incompetence. Both parties continue to vie strongly for the heart of the American public.
Our political parties must therefore place a strong emphasis in building up a strong team and leadership renewal. Politics is not about hero-worship. A team of strong leaders is more resilient than a single super-human. The PAP and WP understand the importance of a strong team and have harvested electoral fruits accordingly. The SDP and NSP appear to be making some headway in building a team. However, it looks like the RP and SPP are laggards in this area.