23 October 2016
Justin Trudeau (left) is a full-blown charmer, Joshua Wong (center) has potential but Ma Ying-jeou doesn't look too good to many Taiwanese because of his embrace of mainland China. Photos: HKEJ
Justin Trudeau (left) is a full-blown charmer, Joshua Wong (center) has potential but Ma Ying-jeou doesn't look too good to many Taiwanese because of his embrace of mainland China. Photos: HKEJ

Is being handsome enough to win elections? Just look

A lot has been said about Justin Trudeau, the 43-year-old incoming prime minister of Canada.

Forget his career, in which he has spent 15 years as a drama teacher, and the fact that his father, Pierre Trudeau, was Canada’s prime minister in the 1970s.

The younger Trudeau is being described as a “more socially respectable” second-generation political leader compared with Chinese President Xi Jinping or Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Trudeau charmed his followers with his acceptance speech in which he declared: “This is Canada, and better is always possible”.

These same followers were quick to compare it with John F. Kennedy’s “Ask what you can do for your country” speech.

But by all appearances, Trudeau is about, well, appearances.

He is young and handsome and could give Mexico’s dapper leader, Enrique Peña Nieto, serious competition.

But does this even matter? More to the point, do looks and charm win elections?

The answer is a no-brainer. Just look at Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Trudeau’s late father was also a charmer.

They were political poster boys of the great era of television.

Justin Trudeau is a product of the 24-hour news cycle, the internet and the instant sound bite that can make or break political ambitions.

But make no mistake, you can’t judge a book by its cover, as the saying goes.

Many Taiwanese have fallen out of love with President Ma Ying-jeou, a tall, handsome Harvard law graduate who has been a disappointment to nationalists with his embrace of mainland China.

Those not blessed enough with great physical stature can always use other means to win power, or hold on to it for that matter.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying couldn’t care less how Hong Kong people see him.

He has been caricatured as a wolf and his photo splashed on toilet paper.

But he has Beijing to hang his hat on, which is why he has survived political turmoil these past three years and might even get a term extension in two years.

Notice how he can manage a smiling face despite having very few things to be cheerful about since he came to office on July 1, 2012.

And that’s saying nothing about people who are openly hostile to him.

For instance, lawmaker Raymond Wong asked him pointedly, “when will you die?”

Leung came back with a quote from a Mao Zedong poem, wishing Wong “a long life”.

Neither Leung nor any of his critics is terribly good-looking, which is perhaps why they never try to trade on their appearance.

We’re not suggesting they do something about it, so we are not saying the f-word.

But we wonder if anyone among our new generation of leaders will step forward and charm our socks off.

Joshua Wong is not handsome but he has potential.

The problem is he is not even old enough to run for elective office.  

He is seeking to lower the minimum age limit for elective officials to 18 from 21 (Wong is 19) which will directly benefit him.

Indirectly, his move might inspire a whole coterie of young political charmers who are also pleasant to look at.

Then again, not all political charmers are born — some are self-made.

Russians are enamored with Vladimir Putin (his popularity rating is off the charts) who likes to be photographed shirtless with a gun, on a horse or in the water.

Can you imagine Barack Obama or David Cameron challenging him in various stages of undress?

Incidentally, looking at former chief justice Wong Yan-lung become the youngest recipient of the Grand Bauhinia at 50 was not particularly exciting.

I would watch out for fresh, young faces to emerge from next month’s district council elections.

May be one of them will be our version of Justin Trudeau.

(Cantonese only)

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CY Leung (left) somehow manages a smiling face, even a nice comeback, after being asked by Raymond Wong (right), "when will you die?". Photos: HKEJ

EJ Insight writer

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