SINGAPORE - Political parties should prepare for a very different general election campaign, one that relies less on physical interactions with large groups of voters, the Elections Department (ELD) said on Monday (June 8).
The ELD said parties need to look at other means of getting their campaign message out to voters - including through the Internet - as the Covid-19 situation is likely to place limits on whether rallies, walkabouts and house visits can take place.
At a media briefing, the ELD said campaigning rules outlining whether these physical activities will be allowed are not yet ready. This is because the Covid-19 situation remains fluid, and campaigning guidelines will need to take into account the existing rules on safe distancing and management closer to the actual date of the polls, it said.
But it stressed that it intends to give political parties as much advance notice as possible.
"ELD is committed to giving political parties and candidates as much lead-time as possible to prepare their campaigning activities. However, putting out the guidelines early would mean that there could be further changes, as the Covid-19 situation evolves," it said.
"As Covid-19 is likely to still be present beyond April 2021, by which time the GE must be held, we strongly encourage candidates and political parties to plan for modes of campaigning that minimise large group gatherings."
It added that it would ensure voters have access to campaigning messages from all political parties and candidates, in the event that health advisories restrict people from gathering in large groups. These could include steps such as more TV broadcast time for candidates and political parties.
The ELD said campaigning activities on the Internet can still continue. Singapore's next general election must be held by April 14, 2021.
Leaders from the ruling People's Action Party have hinted that Singapore could go to the polls soon. That has, in recent days, prompted calls from opposition parties for more clarity on what sort of campaigning would be allowed during the hustings.
Last month, the Workers' Party called on the Government to publish election campaign rules, saying there has been a "distinct lack of clarity as to precisely how campaigning will be modified in view of the Covid-19 pandemic".
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing responded on May 30, saying the ELD could not prematurely announce these rules and risk them becoming outdated due to the fast-evolving Covid-19 situation.
On Monday, the ELD echoed Mr Chan's view when asked by reporters whether campaigning rules were ready.
It said rules for physical campaigning will have to rely on prevailing health guidelines, and it "did not make sense" to announce them now.
"If social distancing measures allow 10 persons to congregate, then we will allow walkabouts, subject to safe distancing requirements. But if the guidelines only allow for five persons (to gather), then we've got to decide what it means for walkabouts," said the ELD.
Campaign rallies will also not be possible under such conditions, it added.
The Government has said the second phase of Singapore's reopening will allow social gatherings of up to five people.
But should the election be held early next year - with the Covid-19 situation having improved - then physical rallies could be held, subject to guidelines at the time, it added.
The ELD said it was "working through the scenarios" and would announce campaigning guidelines as soon as possible, to give candidates and political parties time to plan their campaigns.
A worst-case scenario is if campaigning guidelines are released when the Writ of Election is issued.
Said the ELD: "We want to share this as early as possible. So, once we have worked through the scenarios with the relevant agencies, the police for physical campaigning, and the Ministry of Health in terms of health advisories, we will then share this."