SINGAPORE: No physical rallies will be allowed if hustings for the General Election fall within Phase 2 of Singapore’s reopening, but alternative ways of reaching out to voters will be provided, the Elections Department (ELD) said on Thursday (Jun 18).
Physical campaigning activities will be restricted in line with Ministry of Health (MOH) guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – which means that gatherings have to be restricted to a maximum of five people.
Political parties doing walkabouts and door-to-door campaigning have to cap their groups at five people, and they should also take other precautions advised by the health authorities such as wearing masks and avoiding physical contact, said ELD.
READ: Political parties to get free airtime, subsidised livestreaming venues if GE takes place in Phase 2
“Candidates and political parties should also ensure that the members of the public they interact with adhere to prevailing safe distancing measures,” ELD said in a press release.
Familiar sights from previous elections like crowded political rallies and supporters gathering at nomination centres are also out, as large gatherings will not be allowed.
Nomination Day proceedings will be covered by national broadcaster Mediacorp on its TV and online channels. Only candidates, their proposers, seconders, assentors and accredited media can enter nomination centres, and party supporters will not be allowed to linger nearby, said ELD.
Gatherings at assembly centres on counting night for supporters to wait for election results will also not be allowed.
ALTERNATIVES TO PHYSICAL RALLIES
Instead of physical rallies, constituency political broadcasts will be aired on Mediacorp’s Channel 5. Each candidate will be given three minutes of airtime on national TV and can choose to speak in any of the four official languages. This is a one-off, special arrangement for the next election.
This means that each candidate from a Single Member Constituency (SMC) will get three minutes, each team from a four-member Group Representation Constituency (GRC) will get 12 minutes, and a team from a five-member GRC will get 15 minutes. Parties can decide whether one or more members of the GRC team should speak during the allotted time for GRCs, said ELD.
These are on top of two party political broadcasts, similar to the 2015 General Election, which will be aired on 19 TV and radio channels.
“Members of the public are advised to watch the political broadcasts from their own homes, and not gather in groups beyond the sizes allowed under the prevailing MOH guidelines,” said ELD.
Candidates will also have the option of holding e-rally livestreams and the Government will provide venues for livestreaming that candidates can apply for and use during the campaign period, at a subsidised rate. The use of these venues are optional and candidates may campaign via live-streaming elsewhere, at other times, said ELD.
Further details on the political broadcasts and the livestream venues will be announced after the Writ of Election is issued.
Another change is that perambulating vehicles for campaigning will not be permitted to broadcast music or videos, or have live speakers or livestreaming.
READ: COVID-19: Recommended time-bands for voters to cast ballots among new safety measures for elections
"Allowing candidates to speak from the back of perambulating vehicles would amount to a de facto rally and will attract a crowd around them," said ELD.
"It would pose significant risk to public order, public health and road safety, if crowds congregate or follow the perambulating vehicle on the road."
In addition, the police will not grant permits for “thank you” vehicular processions after polling day. This is also because such processions tend to attract crowds.
"Unlike campaigning activities, such processions are not critical to the campaigning process,” said ELD.
GUIDELINES ARE FOR PHASE 2
Besides protecting the health and safety of members of the public, the campaign guidelines are meant to ensure that voters have access to campaigning messages of all political parties and candidates, even amid the COVID-19 situation, said ELD.
Some aspects of election campaigning will not change, for example, there will continue to be a Cooling Off Day where all campaigning must stop ahead of polling.
The putting up of posters and banners can continue, while candidates may also campaign online, subject to election advertising regulations which were announced on Jun 8. ELD has previously announced special measures for voting during the pandemic, which include allotted time-bands for voters to cast their ballots and the donning of gloves when voting.
READ: Sponsors of paid online election advertising have to be disclosed in tightened campaigning rules
ELD also reminded candidates to conduct their campaigning in a “responsible and dignified” manner, and not make unfounded allegations or statements that will cause racial or religious tensions.
“They should steer away from negative campaigning based on hate and denigration of opposing candidates,” it added.
ELD said that it has announced these preliminary campaigning guidelines to give political parties and candidates time to plan their campaigning activities, and they are for Phase 2 of re-opening.
On Monday, the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force announced that Singapore will progress to Phase 2 on Jun 19, and most activities and businesses can open subject to safety precautions.
Besides capping gatherings to five, the rules also require people to stay at least 1m apart where feasible. Venues where large crowds can congregate, including libraries, places of worship and movie theatres, cannot reopen yet. This phase is likely to last for several months, the task force had said.
ELD said that when new guidelines are issued for Phase 3, ELD will update the campaigning guidelines in accordance with the prevailing health advisories.
Singapore’s next General Election has to be called by April 14, 2021 but there are signs that it may be coming soon. ELD said however that the issuing of these campaigning guidelines has “no relation to the timing of the General Election, which will be decided by the Prime Minister”.