(June 18): It’s going to be a very different election season for Singapore this time around.

With polls expected to be held soon amid the pandemic, campaigning in the country has been altered to curb any virus spread: No physical rallies, refrain from shaking voters’ hands, no gatherings on polling night and no more than five people in a group when candidates canvass support on the ground.

Elections in the city-state would make Singapore the second Asian nation to go ahead with the ballot during the virus outbreak following South Korea’s polls in April. Other countries in the region have opted to postpone voting due to the pandemic.

In lieu of rallies, more airtime will be provided for political parties and candidates on the nation’s free-to-air television channels, according to preliminary campaign guidelines released by Singapore’s Elections Department on Thursday.

Though polls in the Southeast Asian nation have to be called by April next year, leaders from the ruling People’s Action Party have hinted the country could head to the ballot boxes much sooner. The campaigning period has been set at nine days in previous elections, followed by a cooling-off day before voting starts.

The newly-released guidelines take reference from the government’s second phase of a three-stage easing of lockdown measures. From Friday, most activities such as going to shops and dining at eateries will resume following improved conditions in Singapore. With a tally of more than 41,000 confirmed cases, community infection rates have remained stable and there are no new large clusters emerging, officials have said.

Protecting the health and safety of voters, candidates and election officials are among key considerations in drawing up the guidelines, the Elections Department said Thursday. At the same time, it wants to ensure voters have access to the campaigning messages of all parties and candidates amid the pandemic.

What are the new campaigning guidelines:

  • No physical rallies are allowed
  • Supporters can’t gather at venues to cheer for their candidates when their candidacies are announced and on polling night. Announcements will be made on live television
  • Unlike previous elections, candidates can’t ride at the back of vehicles broadcasting their messages around housing estates. Only pre-recorded messages are allowed, though no music or videos should be broadcasted
  • Party political broadcasts will be aired on 19 television and radio channels, up from 13 in the last election
  • To facilitate online campaigning, venues will be provided for candidates to do live streaming at certain time slots throughout the day during the campaign period. Venues will be equipped with internet connectivity at subsidized rates
  • Food and beverage outlets should not screen any election-related broadcasts on their premises
Releasing the preliminary guidelines now gives political parties and candidates time to plan their campaigning activities, though the announcement has no relation to the timing of the polls, which is decided by the Prime Minister, the Elections Department said. These directions come after the main opposition party in Singapore criticized the lack of clarity over how campaigning will be modified amid the pandemic.