COVID-19: No physical rallies, cap of 5 per group for walkabouts if general election held

·Assistant News Editor
·5-min read
People attend a lunchtime rally by the ruling  People's Action Party (PAP) at the central business district in Singapore September 8, 2015. Singaporeans will go to the polls on September 11. REUTERS/Edgar Su
People attend a lunchtime rally by the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) at the central business district in Singapore 8 September, 2015. Such large-scale rallies will be forbidden if the next election is held amid the pandemic. REUTERS/Edgar Su

SINGAPORE — Should Singapore’s next general election (GE) be held amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, physical rallies will not be allowed and the cap of five persons per group must be observed during walkabouts and door-to-door campaigning, said the Elections Department (ELD) on Thursday (18 June).

In lieu of rallies, more airtime on national free-to-air TV channels will be given to political parties and candidates. This will be in the form of party and constituency political broadcasts. The government will also provide livestreaming venues for e-rallies, with Internet connectivity at a subsidised rate.

Meanwhile, traditional campaign vehicles will be allowed to broadcast recorded messages. However, parties and candidates will not be permitted to speak, livestream or broadcast music or videos from the vehicles, in order to avoid drawing a crowd.

At a media briefing on preliminary campaigning guidelines, ELD officials said the rules had been drawn up based on Ministry of Health (MOH) public health guidelines, as Singapore enters Phase 2 of its reopening on Friday. If and when guidelines are issued for Phase 3, ELD will update them as necessary, based on the prevailing MOH guidelines.

It is unclear if the minimum campaigning period of nine days will be extended given the constraints.

Officials stressed that the announcement of the guidelines has no relation to the timing of the GE, which will be decided by the Prime Minister. The next GE must be held by 14 April 2021.

Walkabouts, rallies, vehicles

INFOGRAPHIC: ELD
INFOGRAPHIC: ELD

Parties and candidates may conduct walkabouts and door-to-door campaigning in groups of up to five each. If there is more than one group, there should be no mixing, with each group remaining at least one metre apart from the others.

They must also take the necessary precautions, such as wearing masks and minimising physical contact.

The penalties for failing to observe safe distancing guidelines will be the same as that for any member of the public. In recent weeks, dozens of individuals have been fined $300 each for not wearing masks, breaching the ban on social gatherings, and leaving their places of residence for non-essential purposes.

ELD will not be involved in enforcement efforts, which will follow the current national framework, nor will it check on the composition of each campaigning group.

In addition, supporters will not be allowed entry into Nomination Centres on Nomination Day, as large group gatherings are forbidden in Phase 2. Only candidates, their proposers, seconders, assentors, and accredited media personnel can enter.

Furthermore, no police permits will be granted for any election meetings, including rallies and gatherings at assembly centres on Counting Night for supporters to wait for election results.

Party and constituency broadcasts

INFOGRAPHIC: ELD
INFOGRAPHIC: ELD

As in GE2015, parties will be allocated two Party Political Broadcasts (PPB). These will be aired on 19 TV and radio channels, up from 13 in 2015.

In 2015, eight political parties that fielded at least six candidates were allocated between 2.5 minutes and 13 minutes of broadcast airtime to make statements in the four official languages.

And in a one-off arrangement in light of the pandemic, candidates will be allowed to make Constituency Political Broadcasts (CPBs) on MediaCorp’s Ch5. Each candidate contesting a Single Member Constituency (SMC) will be given three minutes of airtime on national TV.

Similarly, each group of candidates contesting a Group Representation Constituency (GRC) will be given 12 minutes or 15 minutes respectively, depending on whether it is a 4- or 5-member GRC. Parties can decide whether one or more members of the GRC team should speak during the allotted time for that GRC.

CPBs can be made in any of the four official languages.

Voters are advised to watch the broadcasts from their own homes, and not gather in groups beyond the sizes allowed under the prevailing MOH guidelines.

Meanwhile, candidates can also apply for and use live streaming venues, provided by the government, to hold e-rally livestreams. They may do so at specific timeslots throughout the day during the campaign period.

Candidates are expected to make their own arrangements for filming and live streaming at the site and ensure the successful delivery of their own livestreams. They may also campaign via live streaming outside of the provided venues and timeslots.

General election due

This is the second media briefing by the ELD on the general election in as many weeks.

Comments by senior leaders have also raised expectations that Singaporeans will be going to the polls in the coming months.

In a television interview last month, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said that the sooner polls are held, the earlier the elected government can rally Singapore together to deal with significant long-term economic challenges.

Shortly before Heng’s comments, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that there is “not much time” left for Singapore’s government to hold its next general election as the city-state has to dissolve parliament in January, months ahead of the April deadline.

There is also a series of six national broadcasts by Cabinet ministers on Singapore’s post-coronavirus future, of which five have been delivered to date. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong kicked off the series on 7 June and Deputy PM Heng Swee Keat will wrap it up this Saturday.

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