That Shanmugam smile

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By Augustine Low

Singer Cheryl Cole, actress Angelina Jolie and the Duchess of Cambridge have been voted as having the world’s best smiles.

If such a poll is conducted in Singapore, the smart money is on the public figure with the most disarming of smiles – K Shanmugam. His is a perpetual smile of megawatt proportions, showing a full set of dazzling white teeth.

I cannot recall any politician in recent memory with a smile like Shanmugam’s. The Foreign Affairs portfolio certainly suits him to a T, because his smile can disarm (or charm) anyone at the negotiating table.

Mind you, smiling can lead to disastrous consequences. Not long ago, the most talked-about smile in China was that of Yang Dacai, an official in charge of safety supervision in Shaanxi Province. He shot to fame after he was photographed smiling at the scene of a grisly bus crash which killed 36 people.

When the snapshot was uploaded on the Internet, it immediately dragged Yang into political turmoil. First he was criticised for his callousness. Then netizens posted photographs of him wearing luxury watches that he could not possibly afford on his public servant’s salary. He was subsequently charged with corruption and was recently sentenced to 14 years in prison.

So the wrong facial expression at the wrong time and in the wrong location can prove destructive.

In any case, Shanmugam’s smile seems to be one which doesn’t come across as calibrated or contrived; it’s a smile which oozes with the three Cs – charm, confidence and cheerfulness.

I do not know of any other politician who comes a close second to Shanmugam.
But I do know that the likes of Teo Chee Hean, Lim Hng Kiang and Lui Tuck Yew have a lot to learn from Shanmugam about the art of smiling effortlessly.

If they need further encouragement, there’s apparently a study in the US which shows that politicians with dull poker faces find it harder to win votes.

Augustine Low is a communications strategist.