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Special constituency broadcasts included in preliminary campaigning guidelines for GE during Covid-19

PHYSICAL rallies will not be allowed, but candidates from every constituency will be given television airtime if the next general election is held during Phase Two of Singapore's reopening, under preliminary campaigning guidelines released by the Elections Department (ELD) on Thursday.

These take reference from Ministry of Health (MOH) guidelines for Phase Two of reopening amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which begins on Friday. When new MOH guidelines are issued for Phase Three, which is expected to be months later, then ELD will update campaigning guidelines as necessary.

Drawn up in view of the likelihood that the Covid-19 situation could persist beyond April 2021, by which time Singapore's next general election must be held, the preliminary guidelines are being announced now "to give political parties and candidates time to plan their campaigning activities", said the ELD. "The announcement of these guidelines has no relation to the timing of the General Election (GE), which will be decided by the prime minister."

There is widespread speculation that the election may be held as soon as July, and several senior public servants have recently stepped down in what is seen as possible preparation for entering politics. Safety measures for nomination and voting in an election during the Covid-19 period were released on June 8.

In response to queries as to whether the campaigning period will stick to the nine-day minimum, ELD said that the length of the campaigning period will be announced when the Writ is issued.

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Under the preliminary campaigning guidelines, physical campaigning will be restricted and subject to safe distancing. On Nomination Day, supporters will not be allowed to enter or gather near Nomination Centres. Entry into Nomination Centres will be only for candidates; their proposers, seconders and assentors; and accredited media personnel. The proceedings will be covered live on national TV.

Political parties and candidates may still do walkabouts and door-to-door campaigning, but in groups of no more than five persons, with no mixing between groups during the event. Precautions should be taken, such as wearing masks, keeping all interactions and engagements transient, and minimising physical contact, for instance by refraining from shaking hands.

Perambulating vehicles may still be used to broadcast recorded messages from candidates, but not to livestream or broadcast music or videos. Live speaking from such vehicles will not be allowed. No police permits will be granted for thank-you vehicular processions after Polling Day, which tend to attract crowds and "are not critical to the campaigning process".

As large gatherings are not allowed under prevailing MOH guidelines, police permits will not be granted for any election meetings, including rallies and gatherings on Counting Night by supporters waiting for the election results.

In lieu of physical rallies, parties and candidates will get more airtime on national TV, with the addition of new Constituency Political Broadcasts on Channel 5, in which candidates may speak in any of the four official languages.

Each Single Member Constituency candidate will have three minutes of airtime. Each group contesting a Group Representation Constituency (GRC) will be given 12 minutes for a four-member GRC, or 15 minutes for a five-member one, with parties free to decide how many members of their GRC team will speak during the total allotted time.

These are special, one-off arrangements in view of the Covid-19 situation, said the ELD. Further details will be available after the Writ of Election is issued. As per the previous GE, there will also be two Party Political Broadcasts, aired on 19 TV and radio channels.

Candidates may also campaign on the Internet, subject to regulations announced on June 8. The government will facilitate e-rally livestreams by providing venues with Internet connectivity at subsidised rates, with candidates able to apply for daily timeslots during the campaign period. Use of these venues is entirely optional and there are no restrictions on livestreaming duration during the campaign period.

The use of films in campaigning remains subject to the Films Act and the existing prohibition on party political films. "Factual and objective films that do not dramatise and/or present an inaccurate account" will not be considered party political films.

"For example, a recording of a livestream of an online rally that is not modified to present an inaccurate account is allowed. However, a recording of a livestream that employs dramatisation and/or animation to present an inaccurate account, sensationalise and mislead viewers on political matters is likely to be considered a party political film," said the ELD.

In drawing up the guidelines, the key considerations were protecting the health and safety of the public, and ensuring that voters have access to campaigning messages of all political parties and candidates, so they can make an informed decision, said the ELD.

Previous guidelines on areas such as posters and banners, the cooling-off period, and election financing remain unchanged. In its statement on Thursday, the ELD also warned against foreign interference and negative campaigning, and reminded civic, business and professional bodies of compliance requirements for involvement in political activities.

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