Singapore By-Election Aftermath: 5 Communication Tips for Campaigning Candidates


Hougang By-Election, Politics Singapore
Photo taken off Channel News Asia

Those of you residing in Singapore would probably know the story. It was a breathtaking two weeks of hustings with a local by-election in the electoral division of Hougang. For quite an extended period, the Opposition Workers Party seemed to be on its back foot as talks of party disunity, indiscipline and issues of integrity dominated the headlines.

Political observers, initially in unison in their analysis that despite it being the opposition’s stronghold, a number of voters could be swayed to support the ruling party, due in part of reasons why the by-election was called for in the first place. Yet, as allegations and issues surrounding the opposition party and its members surfaced, the ruling party seemed to jump on unto the bandwagon to amplify the issues in a bid to whip and collect political advantage.

Unsurprising I would say. It’s politics. It’s a game of one-upsmanship. Why let your opponents go, when you can use the opportunity to show the world, the audience – your voters – that your opponents are not up to the mark? That their quality, or or abilities are not up to par, or even their arguments and proposals are fundamentally flawed?

Unfortunately, what seemed to be a natural, political move, seems to have backfired, again, and the electorate returned the constituency to the opposition, margin of 62.09% to 37.91% of the total number of eligible votes.

Political commentators responded in their analysts, that the ruling PAP should’ve and could’ve narrowed down the margin… but the PAP’s constant harping on integrity issues and their attempts to pull down their opponents suggested that the ruling party “hadn’t learned their lesson” since the last General Elections.

Now I’m no political whiz, and my interest lies more in my country’s future than in political affiliations (i.e, I will vote for the best candidates available to me, after careful analysis of what they both stand for, and not necessarily along party lines).

However, based on my analysis as a speech coach and speaking strategist, it is my view that the old method of mudslinging at campaigns is over. Personality attacks simply do not work anymore, and whilst enough noise may still be generated from a sizable electorate in larger countries, the truth is that positive personalities… people who are likable are tend to draw crowds towards them and their ideas like moths to a flame.

The point in contention here isn’t just about content. You can give the best speech in the world… but nobody will buy it if they don’t trust you, and if they don’t trust you, they won’t like you, and if they don’t like you, they won’t buy you or buy from you.

Nobody cares about how much you know, until they know how much you care – John C. Maxwell

It’s not only a battle of minds, for minds, but also a battle for hearts.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge, that the PAP has done a marvelous job over the last 50 years. But as the stresses of everyday life get in the way, do people, and will people still feel like the ruling party cares?

Is the relationship between the leaders and people more of economic? Or will there be an emotional bond to that transcends mind and logic? Essentially, when the going gets tough, and pain (emotion) rules the head, who will people place their trust in?

It must be said, in all honesty, that the PAP still gets the edge for delivering pretty sound policies. But as the rigors and challenges of economy and society pile in, it remains to be seen if the populace will continue to place their trust in the party, especially in the absence an emotional connection.

My words of advice for anybody seeking to deliver an election speech:

  • Focus on your Strengths
    Implicitly showing that the other party does not have the ability or qualities that you possess. The sharing of examples, stories and track records come in handy here.
  • Push Forth the Positives
    Go in good spirit and nature; nobody wants to come out feeling worse than they’d started, and feel like they’re supporting something injust or negative.
  • Beware of the Underdog
    Challenging others to a ‘fight’, be it via legal means or not is outdated; you do note wish to be caught in David vs Goliath situation when everybody sympathizes with the underdog. It does not help too when all the big guns come out in support of attacking a rookie. As military Sun Tzu once said, the greatest authority one has to rule, unite and call his people to fight, is Moral Authority. 
  • Relate Relevance
    Communicate strategies and show how they relate or are important to those whose lives will be impacted. Can issues be explained and seen through the eyes of the voters and audience? The responsibility lies on the speaker to help the audience see and feel for the issues at hand, and not vice-versa. Attention and authority comes with its rewards… and also at  price, don’t they?
  • Impressions Matter
    At the end of the day, it’s the entire package that counts. Are you credible? Do people like you? It is my sincere belief that one of the main reasons Aljunied GRC (a bigger electoral state) fell because a team of seemingly credible politicians  fell to another team of candidates that was perceived to be of comparable quality, but who were also likable and popular with the people.And the results are history.

Politicians, leaders, and nobody hoping to win public support need to remember that they need to present a comprehensive approach to be remembered for the right reasons.

An ex-student of mine remarked and replied recently to a post put up by the Ruling Party and the remark Deputy Prime Minister:

Dear DPM, with all due respect sir, I find it highly disingenuous for you to claim ‘surprise’ at your ‘very simple question’. Launching ugly personal attacks and mudslinging, vehemently accusing others of dishonesty and not being ‘truthful’ and lacking ‘integrity’; all this falls far short of the ‘good and clean fight’ we were promised. I fear it does not bode well for the future of Singapore politics and civil discourse when people stoop so low as to engage in petty partisan politicking and smear tactics, especially when it comes from a member of our parliament of your stature and standing.

It should be noted that this ex-student of mine is barely 20, but has already begun developing a critical awareness of issues and politics surrounding him.

And remember, that the young are no longer politically apathetic, but have begun taking note and taking stock of the political happenings around them.

At the end of the day, it’ll do everybody good to remember that in the long run, impressions do matter and the people do remember.

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