Singapore GE2020: Challenges of a digital election

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Covid-19 has forced Singapore to digitise parts of its election processes. ST video journalists investigate what is at stake for candidates as they take their battles online, and how going digital may change Singapore's political landscape.

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 pandemic has forced Singapore to accelerate its adoption of digitalisation.

With home schooling, teachers have taken lessons online. In line with safe distancing measures, hawkers too have digitalised their ordering processes.

Even before the Writ of Election was issued on June 23, there was an expectation that the 2020 general election would take staples of campaigning into the virtual space.

Political parties have produced teaser videos and have taken their rallies online, in some cases, adopting a discussion show format over the traditional lectern address. But while candidates are still able to conduct physical walkabouts - albeit with safe distancing - some political observers say e-campaigns and rallies are challenging for the undecided voters.

As candidates continue their campaigns into the virtual space, video journalists Rachel Quek and Chong Lii investigate the challenges of Singapore's digital election.

"Once you move rallies online, it will be very difficult to replicate that same emotional connection for the audience," Dr Elvin Ong, post-doctoral fellow at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia, told The Straits Times.

"And so, it is more difficult for voters - I think - to have a sense of the authenticity and the credibility of candidates."

Weighing up the difference between now and then, and the physical tropes of traditional campaign rallies, Mr John Tan, vice-chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party, said: "Technology does not allow candidates to touch anybody... no carrying or kissing babies."

There are of course other ways to connect.

"One of the ways we try to "humanise" the process is to get people's participation. We ask people to send in their questions and then we answer the question during the forum itself," he said.

A new campaign space needs a new style of presentation, says Associate Professor of law at the Singapore Management University Eugene Tan, who believes campaign messages will be different as the online audience has a shorter attention span.

Said Prof Tan: "If parties want to remain relevant, they have to define themselves in a sharper way, picking out an overarching issue that voters can identify with, rather than a scattergun approach where you try to cover as many different issues as possible."

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