The need for physical distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic has required election candidates to develop innovative campaigning methods now that conventional campaigning, involving rallies, public meetings and fundraising events, is prohibited in some jurisdictions. Due to the physical and technological barriers imposed, distanced and online election campaigning could be seen as restrictive for both candidates and voters alike. This paper presents an overview of the key issues and discusses a selection of case studies to demonstrate that it is possible to successfully navigate these challenges and achieve good outcomes that support legitimate and democratic government. Positive outcomes are dependent on a range of factors, however, and in a number of states both the possibility of well-managed online campaigning and legitimate democratic outcomes are being undermined by intensifying political trends that militate against the supportive frameworks required for informed and free voting. The aim here is not to provide a comprehensive analysis but to sketch an impressionistic picture of the recent experience of distanced and online election campaigning across Asia and the Pacific, and to elaborate a broad framework in pursuit of the key lessons to draw out from these recent experiences and the key questions that need answers.
The paper begins by framing the relationship between elections and political freedoms, followed by the key challenges and a regional overview. It then discusses a number of case studies: success stories from South Korea and Mongolia, concerning trends in Singapore and Indonesia, and a hopeful insight from Australia.