Flurry of activity as parties gear up for online campaign

Studios being set up, broadcast capabilities boosted with rally videos set to play key role


Political parties yesterday ramped up campaign planning and preparations - as the 17-day sprint to the polls on July 10 began.

Having been barred from meeting in large groups because of the coronavirus pandemic, parties have broken with tradition and turned to the online space instead, ironing out the finer details of campaign strategies through a flurry of WhatsApp messages and Zoom calls.

These include discussions on logistics, budgeting, the coordination of volunteer efforts, and each party's approach to rally videos, which will play a central role in this year's polls.

In the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), the party machinery swung into high gear several weeks ago, activists told The Straits Times. Studios are now being set up in some branches for candidates to deliver their rally speeches, and some candidates have already had their pictures taken for printing on election posters and banners.

In a statement, the PAP said it will launch its manifesto and introduce new candidates "in due course". This is expected to take place over the course of the week.

"The decision to hold an election in the middle of a pandemic is not an easy one to make," said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in a Facebook post yesterday.

"But given the profound uncertainty ahead, and the challenges that we must tackle as a nation, it is important that we do so now, when the situation is relatively stable."

This will give the new government a fresh, five-year mandate to bring Singaporeans together to overcome the crisis, he added.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung told ST that Singapore is in the middle of what is probably the biggest crisis in its history.

"And at the same time, the Constitution requires that while this boat is in the middle of a storm, you need an election to choose the captain. So I think, let's quickly choose a captain, so that we can quickly sail out of the storm. That's how important this election is," he said.

Meanwhile, the Workers' Party (WP) is playing its cards close to its chest. Party chief Pritam Singh posted a photo of its slate of outgoing parliamentarians on Facebook yesterday, after Parliament was dissolved. "It was our privilege to serve you," he wrote. "Until we meet again."

The party also put up a video clip last night featuring 12 of its members, including former candidates and new faces. Notably, the video did not include former party chief Low Thia Khiang, who is recovering from a fall on April 30. It is unclear whether Mr Low will stand for election again. There was speculation he had been contemplating retirement even before the accident.

Parties across the political spectrum are also building up their video capabilities.

National Solidarity Party secretary-general Spencer Ng said his party has bought and rented broadcast equipment, while Mr Desmond Lim, president of the Singapore Democratic Alliance, added that his party's online rallies have been pre-recorded.

Others, including the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Progress Singapore Party (PSP), have put out calls for boots on the ground to help as polling agents and campaign workers.

"Both play important roles in our party's election campaign," said PSP chief Tan Cheng Bock on the party's messaging channels.

The SDP said it had been preparing for early elections for more than a year and had continued with walkabouts and house visits until they were no longer safe to continue.

"The Writ (of Election) has thus come as no surprise and we are ready to present our case to the people of Singapore for a fairer and more just society," it said, adding that it disagreed with the timing of the elections.

Although Covid-19 case numbers have dropped in the past few weeks, several opposition parties have continued to raise objections over the appropriateness of holding the elections at this time.

"Although there are countries that have held elections during this period, results are mixed," said People's Power Party chief Goh Meng Seng. "Some countries have had a spike in cases."

He added that his party will have to rush to print fliers and posters, although he plans to rely mainly on social media to reach voters.Mr Goh also said yesterday that his party intends to contest the single seats of Radin Mas and MacPherson.

Democratic Progressive Party secretary-general Mohamad Hamim Aliyas said the polls are being conducted too soon, while Peoples Voice leader Lim Tean called it a "cruel time" to hold an election as people are "reeling financially from the consequences of the crisis".

But others are quietly confident that their work on the ground in years past will pay off, despite the uncertain times.

Said Singapore People's Party chairman Jose Raymond, who plans to contest in the single-member constituency of Potong Pasir: "In terms of our outreach in Potong Pasir, work began three years ago and we are looking forward to the contest, in an area which we hold close to our hearts."

• Additional reporting by Toh Wen Li, Yuen Sin, Aw Cheng Wei, Charmaine Ng, Cara Wong, Cheryl Teh, Cheow Sue-Ann and Sandra Davie

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2020, with the headline Flurry of activity as parties gear up for online campaign. Subscribe