Trickier to woo elderly voters in a virtual campaign: Experts
But those quick to adapt to alternative methods will see good traction with voters
Political watchers say Singapore's upcoming general election will be the first of its kind as the Covid-19 pandemic forces a shift away from crowded rallies and possibly even walkabouts to virtual campaigns with speeches and events streamed to mobile phones and computers.
And that could make it tricky for political parties to reach out to the elderly.
Singapore Management University's Associate Professor of Law Eugene Tan said all parties will have to find ways to address the elderly virtually, as many of them are not as familiar and comfortable as younger voters are with online tools.
"House visits play a very important role for this demographic, and candidates will have to find alternative ways and means of reaching out to them," he told The New Paper.
"The older demographic can be a multiplier force, particularly if they are very convinced, as they can then convince their children and even grandchildren to give a certain party some consideration."
The next general election must be held by April 14, 2021, and speculation is mounting that the ruling People's Action Party will call it soon.
In spelling out a slew of safety measures in the event of an election - mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, temperature screening and the wearing of gloves at polling stations, among others - the Elections Department (ELD) said at a press conference yesterday there will be an increase - from 880 to 1,100 - in polling stations, to ensure less of a crowd at each venue.
According to ELD, almost two-thirds of the polling stations will have at least 400 senior voters (aged 65 and above), and it makes the group a sizeable voting bloc.
National University of Singapore's Associate Professor of Sociology Tan Ern Ser said candidates would still be able to reach senior voters through mixed media.
"My sense is that the older demographic are more likely to access TV news, advertisements or programmes, while the younger demographic would do so via digital platforms," he said.
"Given that seniors are more likely to watch TV and local programmes, coupled with the use of physical posters and billboards, it should be possible to access a high proportion of seniors."
ELD said guidelines for campaigning, including physical rallies and home visits, will take its cue from the prevailing safe distancing measures at the time the election is called.
ELD indicated that candidates and parties should make plans for virtual campaigning, and treat any physical campaigning that may be green-lit as a bonus.
The experts agreed that the virtual aspect of elections is likely here to stay, and will be taking a complementary, rather than a supplementary, role as it did in previous elections.
Prof Eugene Tan, who has dubbed the upcoming poll "the masks and gloves election", said: "I don't expect future elections to still be in masks and gloves, but we will see parties looking at campaigning remotely, having already used the Internet in some way or another.
"The parties and candidates that are quick to adapt and recognise the potential and limitations of the virtual, these are the ones that will see good traction with voters."
New safety measures announced for general election
The Elections Department (ELD) announced several measures yesterday so Singapore can hold a safe general election amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The measures cover the following:
- Candidates are strongly encouraged to use ELD's digital services to prepare necessary nomination documents
- Unwell candidates can authorise a representative to file papers instead
- Unwell candidates and team to be processed separately
- Wearing masks will be mandatory at nomination centres, where there will be temperature screening, contact tracing, safe distancing, and protective gear for officials and dedicated cleaners
- Guidance from prevailing health guidelines when elections are called
- If large groups are restricted, ELD will ensure voters have access to campaign messages of all parties and candidates, including possible additional TV broadcast time
- Candidates and parties are strongly encouraged to plan for campaign modes that minimise large group gatherings
- Whether unwell people will be allowed to vote will be decided at later date
- Polling stations to have temperature screening, contact tracing, safe distancing, protective gear for officials and dedicated cleaners. Mask-wearing will be mandatory
- Number of polling stations to go up from 800 to 1,100, reducing number of voters per station from 3,000 to 2,400
- Voters allotted two-hour voting time band, may check queue situation online
- Voters to sanitise hands and wear disposable gloves (provided) before voting, may also use own pen
- Senior voters (aged 65 and above) will have priority queues
- Those on stay-home notice at designated facilities will vote at special polling stations
- Decision on how other affected voters may vote will be decided at later date
ELD also announced measures to increase transparency and accountability for paid Internet election advertising (IEA).
The key measures are:
- More details of paid IEA to be declared to returning officer
- Paid IEA must be accompanied by additional particulars of who paid for it
- Amount spent on IEA must be clearly stated in election expenses returns
Unwell candidate need not file papers personally on Nomination Day
Candidates who are unwell do not have to be present at nomination centres on Nomination Day. Instead of showing up in person like in previous elections, they can authorise a representative to file the nomination papers on their behalf, the Elections Department (ELD) said yesterday.
The submission of Political Donation Certificates and certificates from the Malay Community Committee and the Indian and Other Minority Communities Committee, along with the collection of nomination forms can be done on the ELD website.
The changes are part of measures rolled out to carry out election activities safely during the next general election.
Candidates who send a representative must ensure he has power of attorney, including authorisation to submit nomination papers and raise objections to the nomination papers of other candidates.
The other requirements for successfully filing nomination papers will still need to be fulfilled, such as having the required number of subscribers and submitting a Political Donation Certificate.
Subscribers - who include seconders, proposers and assentors - who are unwell will not be allowed to enter the nomination centre, and candidates will need to find someone to take their place.
On Nomination Day, temperature screenings will be conducted at nomination centres and everyone will have to use the SafeEntry app for contact tracing.
Candidates who have a fever or respiratory symptoms will be directed to a separate area, where they can still inspect the nomination papers of other candidates.
There will be a safe-distancing space of 1m between candidates and their subscribers within the nomination centre, along with the wearing of masks at all times.
Election officials will be given protective gear, such as surgical masks, disposable gloves, face shields and pocket-sized hand sanitisers, while cleaners will be deployed at all nomination centres to ensure a high level of hygiene.