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The finishing mark – a look back at some online election rallies and campaigns

By Rebecca Metteo, Managing Editor (Operations)

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Videos, videos and more videos. As physical rallies and campaigns shift online, it has opened a plethora of ways candidates can use to appeal to Singaporeans online. While political parties with greater resources do have some advantages, online battlegrounds can also provide a more level playing field. For example, political parties can simply go for Facebook live, or broadcast Zoom conference calls at a relatively low price.

Physical rallies have long been an important part of electoral campaigning, for they are exciting and Singaporeans would be able to catch the candidates in action. It, therefore, creates an atmosphere, realising the election fever.

Aside from neighbourhood walkabouts, how will all campaigns and rallies shift online? What matters in online campaigning for candidates and political parties?

Going online: Personal style matters

Some candidates started going live impromptu, like People’s Action Party (PAP) Marine Parade GRC candidate Mr Tan Chuan Jin, who decided to go live on IGTV and Facebook Live, with himself as the host. Interacting with citizens online and responding to their comments, he even cheered for Manchester United in one of his live videos.

These videos are usually about 15 minutes, sufficient to interact with Singaporeans and not too long that it loses people’s attention.

This is when the persona of individual candidates will play a part in garnering support and definitely not a style that will suit every contesters. This is because these videos are more personal, less serious and are unlikely to touch on heavier topics. For Mr Tan has been known for his light banter and strong social media presence, he managed to narrow the gap between himself and the netizens. If not done well, it will be awkward.

Such a persona does not come about overnight, Mr Tan has been a frequent user of social media and has used it to share his life and at times provide some policy clarifications. He also rides on online trends, such as reposting memes of male politicians transforming into female politicians via an app and the most recent, of him literally running for the elections during house visits. All these efforts to build an individual personality online has helped him during the electoral campaign. Mr Tan now has close to 60k followers on Instagram, see, it works.

However, it can also happen when the candidate decides to engage topics specific to a group of people. For example, Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) Party Chief, also a candidate for West Coast GRC, Dr Tan Cheng Bock became popular overnight among the younger generation through​ his Instagram posts by using words like “hypebeast” and “woke”. Dr Tan uploaded memes, videos, photos and stories of it, sometimes with the help of a friend. I started seeing many of my friends reposting Dr Tan’s IG posts. He now has more than 40k of followers on Instagram. I’m woke!

All these Facebook and Instagram videos are meant to be informal, with minimal edits or effect and probably require a couple of practices or retakes. It is meant for the individual style of the candidate to be articulated, uncut, like that of Mr Tan Chuan Jin and Dr Tan Cheng Bock.

While these followers may not translate into votes on polling day, it is a better way of reaching out to the younger population and even people of all ages who are active on social media. It is therefore important to make good use of every post and video on the social media account - making people remember you through the non-political talks.

Tailored talk shows: Timing and Content matters

Various political parties have been using talk shows to discuss some hot issues for this election amidst the pandemic. The “Straight Talk with PAP” series is spaced out throughout the day and often involves Ministers and new candidates discussing issues ranging from the economy, jobs, social mobility to the empowerment of women.

These talk shows have been a good way of putting their new candidates out there - for they will be talking for a longer period in these sessions and interacting with one another. The close to one hour sessions​ help to reflect the dynamic of the PAP team and better understand the new candidates, their expertise, experiences, thinking and passion.

For example,​ in an episode on empowering women,​ featuring Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu and new candidates Carrie Tan and Marriam Jaafar, Ms Tan especially left an impression on me for her candid, outspoken and confident personality. Gradually, I find myself listening to the videos like a podcast while simultaneously doing other things.

As a form of continuation of The Workers’ Party’s teaser and pre-rally video, the after-work or dinner 8pm “Hammer show” is one to remember. It had a nostalgic start and the end of the video - the grand struggle music and shouting of “Workers Party!” like those you hear in physical rallies. Like their usual crowded physical rallies, many have also turned up online to listen to the show. Nostalgic.

In terms of content, WP has come up with different themes for the show, targeting specific age groups of Singaporeans and their relevant concerns. For example, for working Singaporeans on “inclusive growth, productivity and economic sustainability” and for youths on “climate change and inequality”. As such, WP has certainly wooed voters into tuning in for its rational and relatable topics. However, as with past trends, large listening rates might also not translate into votes on polling day.

The PSP also has a similar 9.30pm talk show with quite entertaining Mr Craig Teo, who is the party’s member. Much more casual, the candidates sharing about their day walking the grounds and interesting encounters while answering some questions the netizens have for them. Timing matters, I watched it for a whole good episode and I must admit I was losing attention as it was at the end of a day packed with speeches and rallies.

Another form of talk show from the PAP is in Mandarin, where a celebrity host, Dasmond Koh, will interview a candidate for about an hour. It was a light-hearted session to know more about the candidate from his/her personal life to his thoughts on some issues. Furthermore, the host is well-known among Chinese audiences and is effective in reaching out to the Chinese audiences. This approach would be helpful for candidates who might not be too familiar or comfortable with personal live videos and, specific to this series, have a relatively good command of Mandarin.

Online rally: Atmosphere matters

With the rally intonation, a virtual setting of a podium and a simple back-drop, the Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Dr Chee Soon Juan, has uploaded some interesting individual rally speeches. Dr Chee outlined his campaign slogan and also scrutinized policies and comments made by politicians.

At the last three minutes, the hopeful background music transitioned in and Dr Chee reiterated the campaign slogans with encouraging words. Such as not being tired to speak up for fellow Singaporeans and inviting Singaporeans to stand up and walk with him. While the presentation was impactful, after calming down, I thought parts of it sounded more like targeted criticisms than an offer for doable solutions.

Secretary-General of the PAP, Mr Lee Hsien Loong also took it to the ​PAP’s Facebook page for his first rally this GE in the afternoon of Wednesday (1 July). Also starting with a grand-mission like sound effect, the video is about 15 minutes, where Mr Lee spoke about electing the best possible leadership for Singapore and for a united population who supports and trusts their leaders. The mature and consistent style of the rally video does match PAP’s political brand and it is difficult to imagine them going for more dramatic ways. I must say it is indeed quite an enticing and practical rally speech with a specific focus on jobs and economy - which concerns everyone.

The rallies should be more or less 30 minutes or risk getting switched off for it is challenging to sustain voters’ attention online where there are so many on-going speeches and talk shows.

PSP’s ​first rally was held over a zoom conference call rather than an individual recorded video like Mr Lee’s and Dr Chee’s. It is held with a virtual PSP logo background. The call had a few candidates relaying their campaign speech one by one. This, however, I felt was a little underwhelming albeit with a hint of visionary rally speeches.

Rallies are meant to stir emotions, it becomes more important online, to distinguish rally speeches from other campaign videos and materials. With more than one candidate holding a live rally through a zoom call, the party may lose the opportunity to package an impactful rally video.

It also makes it difficult for people to relook at the video again for it may be rather long and dull. In an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a physical rally online, videos should try to employ special sound effects and well-thought formats. Cue, Workers’ Party teaser, Hammer Show, PAP and SDP rally videos.

Yet, PSP live rally is useful as it streams live comments that would allow the candidates to conduct a two-way interaction with voters rather than passive listening. Such as a question and answer session after the candidate’s individual speeches. Despite this, I find myself remembering better the points and roller coasters of emotions through Mr Lee’s and Dr Chee’s rally speech.

PSP has gradually moved towards other forms of stitching together general footage, interview and sit-down talk shows to aid the e-rallies, thus offering greater diversity than the zoom calls.

Challenges of individual and group talks

From individual introductory videos to talk shows, it has not been easy for the candidates to be comfortable with speaking to the camera and arranging for the technical aspects of filming. The never-ending content overload online, makes it even harder to stand out for everyone to upload videos and pictures at the same time. It is thus easy to lose the audience.

The first important point to gain attention is to have a distinct personality that would be able to attract different groups of people such as the youths online. In other words, it is to create diversity for the image of a politician. A good attempt to attract the older population, Dr Chee even made an interview video with him singing the famous Hokkien song “Ji Pa Ban” but with a twist - by filling some of the lyrics with the aspirations of the elderly.

Then, Mr Tan Chuan Jin who shows that he too is a common Singaporean who is interested in sports, food and one who can take jokes. For Dr Tan Cheng Bock, like a senior who is keen to connect with youths in their language. It's not easy to be a politician in this internet world.

Political memes have increasingly been an important message medium to connect with a wider range of audiences, in a light-hearted way. While aiming to entertain it also has informational value and keeps people in the know for specific messages or of someone in a simple way. It also shows that one does not mind joking about some issues where appropriate - this helps to soften the edges of a politician.

For example, I think that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat could have capitalized on the “East Coast Plan” memes that were going viral on the internet. This would have been a creative way to reveal the plan. Who knows, the post with the plan will go viral and be reposted many times.

Talk shows with a few of the party members sitting down to discuss issues are also important and impactful avenues that can better articulate the personality of the candidates. Likewise, these talk shows are constructive and informative, often showing the intellectual side of the candidates - this has been the second most significant factor for a young voter like myself.

For media materials to reach its impact of gaining support and even votes, it should be creative and presented appropriately based on the topics and candidates, rather than a random or convenient choice. At the finishing line, political parties and candidates have found new ways such as using their unique persona, creative video edits and more to appeal to voters online throughout the campaign.


Rebecca is the Managing Editor (Operations) for The Convergence. She finds joy in the company of good books, movies and her beloved dog. An early riser, you can find her awake at dawn but rarely past midnight!


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