More dignified campaigns for the presidency; ST to host one of two televised forums on Sept 16, 19

(From left) Presidential hopefuls Salleh Marican, Farid Khan and Halimah Yacob.
(From left) Presidential hopefuls Salleh Marican, Farid Khan and Halimah Yacob.PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Campaigns for the presidential election on Sept 23 will differ from previous ones, as new rules are introduced to ensure candidates act with the decorum and dignity that are in keeping with the office of the president.

Televised forums are in, while rallies are discouraged, for one thing.

Also, candidates have to make a statutory declaration that they understand the role of the president as spelt out in the Constitution.

The new rules are meant to keep out the rough-and-tumble of politics during the campaigning process.

The Elections Department (ELD) emphasised it in a statement on Tuesday (Aug 29), reminding candidates how they should campaign.

Said the ELD: "As the office is the highest position in the land, election campaigning should befit the dignity and role of the president."

It added that the president should remain above the political fray, and it is not his role to support or oppose the Government of the day or to advance his own agenda or policies.

The changes were made to prevent the combative, politicised campaigns which featured in the 2011 presidential election.

Some candidates also made promises beyond the ambit of the presidency, in their bid to win the office.

The ELD said the campaigns should focus on the suitability and integrity of candidates to be Singapore's ceremonial head of state and custodian of its reserves.

Ways voters can engage with candidates

For the first time, candidates can choose to sign a form declaring that they will campaign for the election in a dignified and decorous manner consistent with the president's position as the head of state and the symbol of national unity.

The move is voluntary, but the signed form - or lack thereof - will be made public with the candidate's nomination papers on Sept 13.

Voters can tune in to 17 television and radio channels to listen to candidates make their pitch for the position, four channels more than the last election.

Each candidate will have two blocks of 10 minutes of free airtime to broadcast their messages, in the four official languages.

The first broadcast will be on Sept 14, the day after Nomination Day, and the second on Sept 21, the eve of Cooling-Off Day.

There will also be two 90-minute forums, conducted in English, which will be broadcast over television and radio, or streamed online.

The Straits Times will host the first forum on Sept 16, in which candidates will be interviewed by a moderator, SPH radio personality Arnold Gay.

Questions will be collated from the ST's various social media platforms.

The morning forum will be broadcast live over ST's various platforms - website, smartphone and tablet apps - as well as social media channels such as Facebook and YouTube.

On Sept 19, Mediacorp will host the second forum, a townhall meeting at which members of the audience can ask the candidates questions.

Candidates will have a bigger hurdle to clear if they want to hold a rally, as there will be no designated rally sites this election.

Those who want to hold a rally need to secure a site on their own, and apply to the police for a permit.

The ELD also warned that publishing exit polls or election surveys is illegal from now until the day after Polling Day.

Non-Singaporean citizens are banned from taking part in any election activity.

Political parties, meanwhile, cannot be involved in campaigning by using their party names and symbols in support of a candidate.