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Political broadcasts move few but are not without benefits

INTRODUCED in lieu of physical rallies, the constituency political broadcasts that began airing last Friday on national TV, radio and online - on a daily basis until Wednesday - are proving a distant substitute.

With a different setting and atmosphere, necessitating corresponding changes in content, they lack key traits of physical rallies, and appear - at least at first glance - to do no one any favours.

Giving national airtime to candidates for each of the 31 constituencies, the broadcasts were introduced as a special provision for a General Election (GE) held during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pre-recorded in a studio, with candidates seated sedately, the format itself drains the speeches of emotion or energy - precisely what has fuelled many a rally in elections past.

Candidates are restricted to the four official languages, and the nature of a national broadcast itself demands a more formal register.

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Gone are flourishes of dialect or colourful slang. Speeches that might have seemed personable or relatable in a rally setting run the risk of coming across as unprofessional instead.

While candidates from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) suffer the same constraints, it is the opposition parties that rue this more.

Physical rallies - usually held in open fields or sports stadiums - are often seen as the province of the opposition, with firebrand speeches and emotions running high.

This GE, circumstances have removed this platform, forcing them into the staid straitjacket of a filmed broadcast.

One might assume that this is to the detriment of the candidates themselves. Several teams have already copped flak for appearing ill-prepared or awkward.

Even some eloquent speakers have been dissed by the peanut gallery - viewers commenting on online livestreams - for reading straight from their scripts.

Yet, there are other ways to view this. Firstly, a rally turnout is not always a reliable indicator of eventual votes. The absence of opposition rallies might be a blow in terms of audience energy and merchandise sales, but may not necessarily hurt support.

Secondly, these national broadcasts are likely to reach undecided voters who might not have bothered to attend or watch physical rallies.

This makes them less an opportunity to preach to the converted - which physical rallies tend to be - and more a chance to change minds.

Opposition parties get the chance to send key messages to establishment voters, with the Progress Singapore Party team for Chua Chu Kang GRC, for instance, reassuring voters that public services would continue uninterrupted even if opposition candidates were elected.

The PAP also gets to present its policies and plans to those who otherwise would not have attended its rallies. As the campaigning continues on air, it is worth watching to see which parties made this new format count in reaching out to voters.

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