Election rallies are so old-fashioned

I see there’s at least one person who’s thinking along the same lines as myself. Criticalist wrote in a comment to Effect on election advertising amendments on non-party netizens:

I can’t help but wonder why the rules have been relaxed, specifically what advantages would accrue the dominant political party? In the past, alternative media was largely the domain of opposition parties and discourse critical of the government, hence the need to impose restrictions on them.

My default belief (until proven otherwise) is that the liberalisation — incomplete though it is — is designed to serve the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) interest, and that it is not altruistic. And I can see quite easily how that may be so.

PAP rally in Tampines, 2006 general election. Photo by SunsetBay

If I were the People’s Action Party (PAP), I wouldn’t even bother to hold a single rally this time around. Does one seriously believe that their poorly-attended rallies ever gained them more than a handful of extra votes?

Workers' Party rally in Hougang, 2006 general election

After my iconic photo from 2006 (above) broke the convention of mainstream media never to publish wide-angle pictures of rally crowds, the PAP will obviously have reconsidered the merits of holding rallies in future unless they can ensure sizeable crowds for themselves. In the old days, mainstream editors could be relied upon to block publication of any photos (of small audiences) that would embarrass the PAP, but netizens are only too eager to publish such pictures. The paradigm has shifted.

A smart response, in my view, would be for the PAP to shift the paradigm again: No more rallies. Don’t create opportunities to be embarrassed.

Once such a decision is taken, the subsequent question will naturally be: How else to campaign for votes? Clearly the answer will have to lie with new media. Perhaps a blitz of cool videos, catchy phrases that can be spread by mobile media and other tools which even I myself, not being state of the art in many ways, cannot anticipate.

If indeed they took such a decision some time back, they would have spent maybe 18 months conceptualising and putting together such a campaign.

Meanwhile the opposition parties have been stuck in their old ways (the Singapore Democratic party excepted) thinking in terms of market walkabouts and rallies in muddy fields, assuming that there will be little liberalisation of media rules.

Then, with the election around the corner, wham bang, the rules are liberalised enough to allow the PAP’s digital campaign to run, and catching the opposition parties on the wrong foot since they have not prepared much by way of digital media.

Well, at least that’s what I think the PAP should have done. But I have absolutely no idea if they thought the way I think, and even if they did, whether their execution of a digital campaign will be any good. You only have to think back at the first Chingay parade after the 2006 election when the youngest PAP members of parliament, by then past age 30 and getting to 40, were commanded to do hip hop dancing on the back of a truck. You only have to recall — apologies for giving you goose-pimples all over again — the corporate video put out by the Media Development Authority in which executives in suits made monkeys of themselves trying to rap.

So, in the next few weeks, readers can judge the PAP thus:

1.  Did they have the ability and guts to think out of the box to abandon rallies and go exclusively onto digital media?

2. If they did, is the execution any good?

It’s going to be really fun seeing what unfolds.

9 Responses to “Election rallies are so old-fashioned”

  1. 1 syn 15 March 2011 at 23:04

    The way I see it, PAP is reacting to the changing game. The catalyst for change?

    Online Citizen, Yawning Bread, Mr Brown, Lucky Tan, your 2006 iconic photo, and others!

  2. 2 Criticalist 15 March 2011 at 23:56

    I think this election is unique in a number of ways:
    1. The voting population includes a much younger generation of Singaporeans who are not as devoted to the PAP and have a very different mindset to the older voters.
    2. These younger voters are digital natives.
    3. The other political parties are likely to contest almost, if not all, constituencies.

    To not use the digital medium to reach out to the younger voters would be near-political suicide, especially considering the fact that this medium has always been the stronghold of alternative political discourses. It’s like the Apple ipad vs any Microsoft tablet – the ipad’s early lead turned into a stronghold over tablet designs and popularity, and Microsoft is still struggling to try to get its foot through the door. A few PAP politicians using blogs/twitter/facebook are a feeble attempt to endear themselves to the digital natives.

    So I don’t think the PAP has much of a choice in this matter, not with this particular election.

    In terms of rallies.. interesting idea of abandoning it. I’ve read complaints by other political parties that in the past, the choice rally locations (start and end of the campaing period, central locations) are always snapped up by the PAP, and they are resigned to muddy grounds on odd days etc. Unless rallies are completely removed for all political parties, the kiasu side of things will dictate that they should chope, and use, the rally locations so that other people can’t use it! Think tissue packets placed on tables.

  3. 3 Nonchalant 16 March 2011 at 01:14

    Rallies may hold varying degrees of significance for voters.

    Some reasons for attending rallies include
    a) rarity of occurrence and entertainment value (of passionate speeches)
    b) opportunity to see candidates assert their arguments and decide whom to vote for
    c) a mixture of both

    In addition to thinking of what impact rallies have on the PAP, one also has to think about how rallies affect the opposition. It seems that despite a strong attendance at opposition rallies, it does not seem to translate to a proportionate number of votes for the opposition. It leads one to question why do people attend rallies at all? Reason a) or b) or something else?

    (Of course there is a plausible case for stating that gerrymandering distributes opposition votes “evenly” in such a way that they are rendered insignificant. After all, one third of eligible voters did vote for the opposition)

    I note too that YB’s photo was taken in Hougang, an opposition stronghold. Thus, it is likely that rallies from other less established opposition candidates might attract even smaller, though not insignificant, numbers. This in turn might decrease the extent of the correlation of turnouts leading to favorable votes.

    So if rallies have been shown not to produce any significant swing vote for the opposition, is it even a great consideration to the PAP who already has control of the media? On the contrary, abolishing rallies might rob some voters of “anticipated entertainment value” from the GE. Hence, such voters might feel a bit more “anti-PAP” (though not necessarily pro-opposition). Petty as it may sound, the PAP may not want to fix what isn’t broken.

    Besides in Singapore, rallies are one of the justifications of a “level playing political arena” right?

  4. 5 Orang Singapura 16 March 2011 at 02:06

    Its not President Nathans fault. He is leaving the position soon.
    So name calling please.
    So the only thing we can assume is that the PAP is preparing its OWN Man..in the position..and that is what the NEW president is going to get.
    Maybe one Minister who is going to lose his seat in the Ge..will get to be President. Thanks from the PAP.
    But wait for a big pay rise AFTER the election of Ministers and PM!!
    And we wont be able to say boo..about it.

  5. 6 reuben 16 March 2011 at 02:42

    Fact check : PAP did not hold rallies in the 91 (or 97) GE, preferring indoor forums instead.

    • 7 Roy 16 March 2011 at 20:24


      you are partially correct. i also can’t remember the year. anyway, in that particular GE, PAP at first decided not to hold any rallies, thinking that they could rely on their controlled media to campaign for them. but after one or two days they changed their mind and held the usual rallies instead.

      the reasons could be that there were no speeches at the forums, so there were less things for the pro-PAP press to report on. and without the rallies, they also could not generate enthusiasm among their supporters.

      the lesson we can learn from the past GE is that PAP is not invincible when it comes to election campaigning. years of curbing competition from the opposition has made them not that smart.

  6. 8 xcalibre 16 March 2011 at 15:20

    New media is not simply holding rallies online.. it’s about opening a channel for viewers to respond to the rallies by the way of criticism, sarcasm, opinions and feedbacks. If rallies were to be conducted through new media instead, but no avenues for viewers to give spontaneous feedback and criticism, then it’s no different from conducting a live, over the stage rally. Except that rallies over new media will be more robotic, and MPs to be will simply read from script.

  7. 9 Pigeon 16 March 2011 at 20:00

    PAP has been rallying thru main stream media for years (whether election or not) on different occassion like NDP, Chingay, festive seasons. The people have lost interest in their old fashion rhetorics thus explained the poor turnout at their rally. Even if there are dismal crowds compared to opposition camps, it is not difficult to guess that the group came from PA or RCs to feign support.

    On the other hand, because opposition parties have been deprived by main steam media of the show of face to reach the people, their rallies became a treasure and make excitement to attend. It is thus important for opposition parties to reach out to Old folks who are not internet savvy and try to swing vote to them. Rally doesn’t not make any different for PAP but is a crucial one for opposition parties. Having said that, Rally has to be old fashion if you want to win old folks.

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