GE2020: The main thing I learnt from TV broadcast speeches? I really miss physical rallies.

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Jason Fan| July 07, 2020, 02:49 PM

We are more than halfway through the election this year, and Polling Day (July 10) is mere days away.

Under normal circumstances, as a first-time voter, I'll be outside at a physical rally, listening to what the various parties have to say in person.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused this to be impossible, and I completely understand the necessity of online rallies this year, given the need for safe-distancing.

What's the substitute? Constituency broadcast speeches on TV or live videos.

And man, it's just not the same as going to a rally.

The atmosphere at a ground engagement is irreplaceable

In my opinion, the sheer energy and enthusiasm that a physical rally can bring to an election is irreplaceable.

After all, who can forget the lunchtime rallies held at Fullerton Square, where our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew used to inspire Singaporeans during the early days of our nation?

Image via NAS.

And just five years ago, during the last election, there were numerous images of packed rallies surfacing online, where thousands of people gathered together to listen to what prospective candidates had to say.

Image via Christopher Wong.

With virtual campaigning being the name of the game this election, it is honestly pretty difficult for me to feel as excited about the election.

Sure, I can listen to what the various parties have to say on Facebook, and perhaps even join the live chat in discussing issues that are important to me.

However, it just doesn't quite feel the same this time.

Most people that would travel to a physical rally and stay the entire duration are bound to have a certain amount of passion, given the effort they took to attend in the first place.

It shows during the rally itself, and both the supporters and candidates are likely to radiate with more energy, compared to an online rally.

In short, it's simply difficult to feel excited about something when you are sitting at home (very much alone), staring at a computer screen.

It's difficult to focus on one rally

With everything being online, it is easier to watch rallies – given that all you need to do is click a Facebook link and tune in.

Being able to rewind the speeches is also great, as it allows me to better scrutinise the candidates, and the points that they are making.

After all, during a physical rally, by the time you reach the end of the rally, you may have forgotten what the early parts of the speech is about.

However, with the various rallies that are often going on at the same time, it can be difficult to focus on one rally, and pay attention to it in its entirety.

I've found it increasingly difficult to focus my attention on just one rally at a time, as I have a tendency to shift between different rallies that are ongoing at the same time, and try to "catch them all", in a way.

On the other hand, a physical rally almost demands your full attention, given that you're wholly immersed in the rally experience.

And of course, an online campaign means many other distractions, apart from other rallies.

I would know, given that I have the propensity to get distracted by a random cat video for every online rally that I watch.

Online speeches can get pretty awkward

In general, candidates also feel less authentic online, because it is far easier to prepare scripted content for virtual campaigns.

For example, the daily constituency broadcasts, which provide a platform for candidates from all parties to make their case to the nation, are recorded in advance.

On one hand, multiple takes mean that most candidates appeared more professional, as they are likely to make fewer mistakes compared to having to do it in front of a live audience.

On the other hand, it feels sort of awkward at times. A certain politician may give a very impassioned speech, but the nature of an online speech means that the interactive element, which may involve boos or cheers, is lost.

Like rehearsing your school presentation speech in front of your soft toys, and not getting any response when you reach your grand finale. Rather underwhelming.

Online rallies aren't all bad

Despite my various gripes, virtual campaigning is not all bad.

For example, I feel that more young people are joining in the national conversation this election, simply because the bulk of it is online.

While many young people may not feel strongly enough about politics to spend hours on a physical rally, there are many who are willing to spend half an hour perhaps, listening to what their prospective candidate has to say.

For many people who may not have as much time to visit physical rallies, it is often the same.

Having the option to attend all of these rallies from the comfort of their homes or offices helps people make more informed decisions during the electoral process, which is always a good thing.

In any case, it is a given that the rest of this election will be conducted online.

And perhaps in a post Covid-19 world, Singapore may embrace more online campaigning methods, having tested it out during this election.

However, I truly hope that five years later, parties will not abandon the traditional rally as one of their primary tools to engage Singaporeans.

In the end, there's no replacement for a crowd of thousands of engaged Singaporeans, involved in the exciting process of selecting the nation's future leaders.

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Top image via NAS and Christopher Wong.