The Elections Department (ELD) seemed to confirm that opposition parties could have as little as five days from the time election campaigning rules are released to Nomination Day, in a virtual press briefing that was held on Monday (8 June).
During the briefing, the ELD said that it cannot release campaigning guidelines at this time due to the evolving COVID-19 situation. The authority said that it will take direction from the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) safe distancing guidelines at the time election is called to decide whether activities like rallies and walkabouts are permitted.
When pressed to provide a timeline on when it will release campaigning rules, the ELD would only say, “Certainly it will not be later than the day of the Writ.”
The period between the issuing of the Writ of Election and Nomination Day has a range of about five days. This means that resource-strapped opposition parties could have as little as five days to make firm campaigning plans.
The ELD’s latest statement comes days after political parties like the Workers’ Party urged the Government to publish clear election campaigning rules as soon as possible.
Referring to Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s recent hint that the next General Election could be called soon, the WP pointed out that the Government has yet to issue clear directions on how parties can campaign during the election, even though several ruling party politicians have made “vague” statements that campaign methods would be a lot different in the coming election.
Calling on the Government to publish clear campaigning rules, the WP said that the lack of clarity on the new campaigning rules is unfair to opposition parties since they risk squandering the limited funds they have on campaigning methods that could be prohibited in the next election. Opposition parties also need time to plan and find relevant suppliers to meet their campaigning needs.
Asserting that the elections should not be taken lightly even as the nation focuses on overcoming the health crisis, the WP called on the Government to make the campaigning rules clear so that all parties can be prepared to offer voters their best efforts.
In response to these concerns, the ELD claimed that it was unable to provide campaigning guidelines by Monday even though it aims to provide campaigning guidelines as early as possible and aims to give political parties and candidates “enough time to prepare their physical campaigning strategies.”
It said: “Because we don’t know when the election will be held, we are still working through the various scenarios. When we are ready, we will share these both with the media and with the candidates and political parties.”
In the meantime, the ELD urged candidates and political parties to “plan for modes of campaigning that minimise large group gatherings” and continue campaigning activities on the Internet, in accordance with guidelines for such activities that were issued ahead of the last election.
The ELD also promised to ensure that voters have access to the campaigning messages of all political parties and candidates, if restrictions on large gatherings are still in place at the time the election is called. It said, “This may include additional TV broadcast time for candidates and political parties.”