GE2020

Parties stake out the ground in a social media-focused election

With safe distancing rules in place due to Covid-19, much of the campaigning action moves to the Internet and social media platforms

Singapore

A DAY after the long-awaited Writ of Election was issued, the signs that this contest will be fought in a markedly different way are already evident.

While campaigning for the July 10 General Election (GE) has not officially started, Singapore's political parties wasted no time on Wednesday in fanning out across the island to greet voters, distribute leaflets and introduce their prospective candidates - and also reaching out virtually.

The People's Action Party (PAP) conducted its first two virtual press conferences at its headquarters in New Upper Changi Road.

A total of eight new candidates were formally introduced, among them a young lawyer, a senior banker and a former Singapore Armed Forces brigadier-general.

Eighteen more people are due to be unveiled as candidates at separate sessions on Thursday and Friday.

Unlike how it did these introductions at the last polls in 2015, the ruling party chose to announce these new faces as individuals, rather than at the constituency level.

The PAP's first assistant secretary-general Heng Swee Keat, who was present at the first session, said all the candidates have been working the ground already.

The party is still finalising its deployment plans and the details of where the candidates will stand will be revealed in the coming days. The PAP's candidates this time have a median age of 43, with the youngest being 30 and the oldest at 56. There are a total of 10 women in the line-up this year.

Mr Heng, the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, later wrote on Facebook that the PAP's line-up is "diverse" and the candidates have the commitment and dedication to serve.

"I am confident that they are able to work as a team and with our people, to bring the best out of everyone and draw on our combined effort to build a better future for Singapore. This is how the party is renewing itself, and strengthening our capacity to serve our people and to bring Singapore forward," he said.

Earlier, one of the first parties out and about to catch the breakfast crowd on a drizzly morning was the Progress Singapore Party (PSP).

There was quite a buzz at Tiong Bahru Market when the party's chief Tan Cheng Bock - a former PAP backbencher - sat down at a table with Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

After their meal of wonton noodles and coffee, Dr Tan formally presented Mr Lee - a former Singtel CEO and ex-chairman of Fraser & Neave and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore - with his PSP membership card.

The 62-year-old Mr Lee was coy when asked by reporters if he would be a candidate at the election. He would only say that "when I'm ready to disclose that, you will find out".

The venue of their breakfast meeting was also not lost on many observers. Tiong Bahru Market is situated in Tanjong Pagar GRC, the same constituency that Mr Lee's father, the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, helmed for decades.

The pictures and videos of Mr Lee Hsien Yang's appearance made their way to various social media platforms as well.

Meanwhile, Singapore's main opposition party, the Workers' Party (WP), was relatively quiet on the ground for most of Wednesday - away from the glare of the media, at least.

But on its Facebook page, the party posted a new six-minute long video during lunchtime that has already racked up more than 110,000 views and over 2,000 shares.

The clip featured interviews with both current MPs and several new faces, and they spoke of the WP's numerous outreach efforts and activities over the years, while stressing the need for greater diversity in Parliament. The video ended with the hashtag #Makeyourvotecount.

The WP has planned four separate sessions on the teleconferencing platform Zoom over the next four days - starting on Thursday afternoon - to introduce its slate of candidates for the GE.

Two Singapore Democratic Party leaders - chairman Paul Tambyah and secretary-general Chee Soon Juan - held a live "Meet the Press" session on Facebook on Wednesday.

The pair took questions from the media and spoke about the party's alternative ideas and proposals for a post-Covid Singapore.

With the GE being held amid the Covid-19 pandemic, what's evident is that all the political parties - hampered by numerous safe distancing rules that prevent them from campaigning the traditional way - are relying heavily on the Internet and social media to get their messages out to as many of the 2.65 million eligible voters as possible.

How effectively they do so will be seen in the days ahead.

For more of our Singapore GE2020 coverage, go to bt.sg/ge2020

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