The Singapore government has called for its general election to be held on 10 July, which kickstarts a two-week election period. The election period comes during a very difficult time for the economy and amidst phase two of the recovery in Singapore.
While the nation has generally seen political candidates going door-to-door in neighbourhoods, this year, safe distancing measures are put in place to ensure safety first. As such, the Elections Department (ELD) has also relooked campaigning, and strongly encouraged political candidates to plan for modes of campaigning that do not involve physical group gatherings.
Apart from being able to carry out campaigning efforts on the internet via social media or live-streaming, ELD also said it will be more providing more airtime on national free-to-air TV channels for political parties and candidates. This is to allow all political parties and candidates to put their messages out to voters, while safeguarding public health and safety, said the ELD.
ELD has also drawn up new campaigning guidelines for physical campaigning, including observing social distancing during walkabouts and door-to-door campaigning, as well as permitting the use of roaming campaign vehicles without speaking or broadcasting of music or videos from the vehicles. ELD has also previously set revised guidelines regarding paid internet election advertising during the election period.
According to Edwin Yeo, general manager of SPRG Singapore, digital outlets such as live-streaming of virtual rallies can be beneficial to political candidates and if managed well, political candidates actually have a chance to reach a broader audience than a physical rally. But on the flip side, this might be a more general audience rather than actual voters within the political candidates' constituency. "The political candidates may not thrive off the emotions that a live crowd gives them, but that might help scale down the rhetoric and focus on the issues that they are running on. Moreover, voters realistically look at what the candidates can do for their constituency rather than the country," Yeo said, adding that political candidates should learn how to mix in local messages with national ones when campaigning online.
Yeo added that as compared to holding physical emotional rallies, live-streaming on digital platforms can also help Singaporeans to consider their vote with more of their heads than their hearts. Additionally, political candidates can also better track their engagement on live-streams and get better data on whether their messages are working during the elections.
Retaining the 'human element'
Tarun Deo, managing director of Golin Singapore and SEA, agreed that the use of digital platforms is very impactful in helping political candidates reach out to voters. "Both traditional media going online and social media have proven to be effective tools helping politicians not just in Singapore, but the world over to cultivate, inform and fire up their political bases," he said, adding that the use of digital platforms can help political candidates to not just engage with Singaporeans during elections, but have continuous conversations with them on issues that matter after.
Given the safe distancing regulations in place, this is arguably the first general election where political candidates have to adopt a more digitally-inclined method of campaigning. Lina Marican, managing director of Mutant Communications, said it is important for political candidates to have their own unique voice and passion points. Staying true to these points online would endear the candidates to residents, she added. Marican also said that while there are various digital platforms to be used, it's the message and intent that helps political candidates truly connect with its residents.
To retain a human element behind the digital screens, Marican suggested having more interactive content online, such as live “Ask me anything” style chats, instead of static posts and pre-recorded interviews. She added that this would allow political candidates to connect with residents in real-time and respond faster, instead of relying on limited time during mass rallies or door-to-door visitations.
Additionally, Marican said candidates should have strong social media guidelines on responding to both supporters and "trolls". "Political candidates need to be able to respond in a calm and timely manner, which could also mean disengaging respectfully when it’s not a constructive conversation," she said.
Nonetheless, Marican warns that merely campaigning online can be somewhat limiting and political candidates may miss out on voters who are not on social media, should they focus too much on online campaigns. "While it is tough for candidates to replicate the reach of mass rallies, political candidates should have deeper and more personalised conversations online with residents," she added.
The idea of national affairs and live streaming being intertwined is not new, as the Singapore government has been live streaming COVID-19 related press conferences by the multi-ministry task force, as well as announcements by Prime Minister Lee such as the extension of the Circuit Breaker in April.
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