New campaigning rules remain a mystery due to evolving COVID situation

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While the Government has cautioned that the way political parties can campaign for the election will be different this time given the COVID-19 situation, the new campaign rules remain a mystery. The Elections Department (ELD) released guidelines on polling and nominating procedures on Monday (8 June) but said that it will issue campaigning rules at a later date.
The ELD pinned the delay in the release of campaigning rules on the evolving coronavirus situation. The authority, which is a department under the Prime Minister’s Office, said: “As these activities involve large group gatherings, the guidelines will depend on the Covid-19 situation at the time.”
This means that campaign activities like rallies and walkabouts would be prohibited if safe distancing guidelines at the time of election require gatherings to be restricted to five people or fewer.
The ELD will, however, amend the rules on what is allowed and what is not, depending on whether the Ministry of Health allows larger gatherings if the COVID-19 situation improves at the time the election is called.
It said, “If social distancing measures allow 10 persons to congregate, then we will allow walkabouts, subject of course to safe distancing requirements. But if the guideline is such that it’s only five, then we have to decide what (this means) in terms of walkabouts.”
Giving another example at a virtual press briefing, the ELD said: “If the election is going to be held next month and the prevailing health advisory allows for (gatherings of) five persons, then I think we will not allow supporters at the nomination centre.
“But if the election is going to be held, say in April next year, and (if MOH) allows gathering of up to 250 people like before, then we will allow supporters of up to 250. It really depends on the (health situation), and by this example I hope you appreciate why it is difficult for us to share the guidelines at this point in time.”
The authority 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.”
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.
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