Flurry of activity as party activists and volunteers spring into action

PAP volunteers collecting their polo t-shirts at the Bedok Branch.
PAP volunteers collecting their polo t-shirts at the Bedok Branch. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Activists and volunteers for the various parties sprang into action yesterday, finalising plans and putting the finishing touches on campaign preparations as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong finally pushed the button on the next general election.

At the People's Action Party (PAP) branch in Bedok, some 80 volunteers gathered over a KFC dinner to go over the dos and don'ts of election campaigning.

On the other side of the island, in Jurong, the PAP's Mr Ang Wei Neng looked over a list of locations where his campaign posters would be put up on lamp posts.

"I am normally in my ward every day, and now I'll just turn up the tempo," he told The Straits Times. "For example, I normally come about 7 or 7.30pm. Today, I'm here at 6pm."

There was a similar buzz among opposition candidates.

SingFirst chief Tan Jee Say held a training session for candidates, teaching them how to deal with the media and briefing them on the issues.

A Reform Party team gathered in Ang Mo Kio to conduct house visits, but decided to cancel them after learning that the Writ of Election had been issued. "I remembered we are not allowed to campaign until the campaign period has started," said party chairman Andy Zhu.

Meanwhile, the candidates and volunteers for the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) met to complete paperwork required for nominations and to go over the logistics of the campaign.

And with the elections called at last, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Workers' Party (WP) could set their plans in motion to introduce their candidates.

The SDP lost no time in introducing two new faces yesterday while the WP said it would start unveiling its candidates today.

But the flurry of activity, party leaders and supporters said, was the culmination of months of preparation.

PAP insiders told The Straits Times that the party's election teams had been set up since last October.

These teams, which have between eight and 15 people, help the candidate with everything from logistics planning to gathering intelligence on the opposition.

They monitor the social media posts of opposition parties or try to get tip-offs from their friends, for instance, of anyone spotted during walkabouts with a party chief who could be a potential candidate.

Team members also prepare and proofread manifestos for the candidates.

Said a team member who has been involved in past elections: "Usually the design and content would be done and we would just be waiting for any last-minute changes from party headquarters."

Others would be in charge of preparing posters and identifying lamp posts that are near traffic junctions, bus stops and zebra crossings.

For opposition parties, a lot of the early preparation work also involves creating publicity material.

Reform Party's Mr Zhu said that finding a good printer willing to print opposition material can sometimes be challenging.

"Some of them do not turn down the business directly, but would quote unreasonably high prices and you would not use them. I had one printer quoting me $5,000 for 15,000 copies of fliers, when it would normally cost about $800," he said.

SDP vice-chairman John Tan said his party is focusing on its IT plan this year.

Mr Tan said the party had invested "a lot of time, effort, money in IT", which it is relying on heavily this time round to get its campaign messages across various platforms to reach a wider audience.

That investment was on display yesterday when it became the first party here to stream its candidate introduction on YouTube.

The first big test for the election teams will come on Nomination Day, Sept 1. With only an hour for parties to register candidates, any mistake - a misplaced form, an assenter arriving late - can scupper months of work.

To try and minimise problems, the PAP volunteers said they conduct dry runs and take extra precautions.

Said a party activist: "We will arrange for two cars to escort the candidates to the Nomination Centres. In case one car breaks down, there is another vehicle right behind to get the candidates to the Nomination Centre on time."

Many candidates say the long preparation also means there is no panic at the release of the writ - even with an unexpected polling date.

The announcement yesterday of a general election on Sept 11, a Friday, was greeted with surprise online. The general election has rarely taken place on a weekday and most punters had expected Polling Day to be on Sept 12.

But candidates took it in their stride.

Said Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad: "We have our usual activist meetings and door-to-door visits. We were only waiting for the day. I first started GE meetings four months ago because we thought it was good to get the engine warmed up. Now it'll be full steam ahead."

Similarly, Marine Parade GRC MP Fatimah Lateef said her team was ready to go.

"Life has bits of excitement," Dr Fatimah said. "But life is also about preparation. I'm not a last-minute worker."

• Additional reporting by Rachel Au-Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Flurry of activity as party activists and volunteers spring into action'. Subscribe