When election posters went up across Singapore yesterday, people noticed one thing right away: A poster of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appeared everywhere.
He is leading the People's Action Party (PAP) team in Ang Mo Kio GRC, but posters showing just him are on lamp-posts from Jurong to Changi and Woodlands to Tanjong Pagar.
Singapore People's Party candidate Lina Chiam was unhappy to find herself staring at Mr Lee's picture in front of her office in Potong Pasir, where she hopes to unseat the PAP's Mr Sitoh Yih Pin.
She grumbled that he appeared to be telling Potong Pasir voters he was standing in the single-member constituency too. "When they see PM, somehow... they will vote in a (certain) way," she said.
"It's right in front of my office some more. If it's Sitoh, it's okay, but it's not Sitoh."
But this might just be the reaction the PAP had hoped for, said the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies' Associate Professor Alan Chong. "He is staking his reputation on this election and saying, 'vote for me and my team'," he said.
The strategy makes sense, given that Mr Lee is one of the most recognisable politicians, said former Nominated MP Calvin Cheng.
Political parties elsewhere have long been known to play up their strongest electoral assets, whether it be a popular president or other personalities associated with them.
Party sources say that based on internal polls, Mr Lee consistently scores highly for his popularity. On Facebook, his profile is the most-followed among all politicians here. According to Socialbakers, a social media data site, he has 843,963 fans.
But this strategy of putting the Prime Minister at the forefront of a campaign is not without risks. The last time it was tried, it did not quite result in overwhelming support for the PAP. In 1991, soon after becoming Prime Minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong called an election and said every vote for the PAP would be a vote that supported him and his style of government.
The result? The PAP won 61 per cent of the vote, 2.2 percentage points lower than in 1988. It also lost four seats , including one to a Workers' Party (WP) new face, a certain Mr Low Thia Khiang.
The appearance of Mr Lee's posters yesterday set off a debate about its purpose and his message. Although many found it unusual, PAP vice-chairman Yaacob Ibrahim said putting up the PM's poster in different constituencies is not new, and has been done before. One reading is that Mr Lee wants to emphasise the importance of keeping politics personal.
On Nomination Day, he said he had noticed that he received the most "likes" on Facebook whenever he posted something personal, and that said something about the people following him.
"They want to know that there's a person there whom they can connect with, whom they can understand and who understands what they want," he said.
In line with that, the PAP has sent direct e-mails to subscribers of party organ Petir, with a message from Mr Lee. This is on top of other familiar methods used by all parties, from fanning out to greet people to shaking hands, handing out fliers and holding rallies.
Dr Yaacob said the PAP wants to reach out to as many voters as possible. "This is to remind them what this election is all about. The direct message - we thought it was very good, very heartwarming, direct to a person," he said.
Opposition parties have also been making use of social media to connect with supporters.
WP chairman Sylvia Lim has posted several photos of herself on Instagram, including one with her boyfriend, well-known former football star Quah Kim Song. In just three weeks, some 4,418 people followed her account.
Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan has been sharing his life story on social media, with a video showing his family at home in their three-room Housing Board flat in Toa Payoh.
Both Ms Lim and Dr Chee are showing a side not often seen, which softens their image, said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan. But he felt that when it comes to campaigning, social media is not a game changer.
"Candidates still need to hit the ground. Voters will want to meet the candidates in person," he said.
But when it comes to posters, opposition parties are sticking to putting up pictures of their candidates in the wards they are contesting.
That might be because, for the first time, ballot papers will show photos of the candidates. "If the voter is familiar with the face, there is more likelihood of voting for that person," Mr Cheng said.
This article was first published on September 3, 2015.
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