Bangkok Desk, Jul 10 (efe-epa).- Singaporeans headed to the polls Friday in a general election held early amid the country’s coronavirus epidemic and with the ruling party that has governed since independence as clear favorite.
The polling stations, adapted so that physical distancing is respected, opened at 8 am local time (00:00 GMT) and will close at 8 pm (12:00 GMT). Results are expected late Friday or early Saturday.
Voters must wear face masks at all times, and also gloves when marking ballots in the voting booths, which will be regularly disinfected.
Voting is mandatory for the 2.67 million Singaporeans called to the polls, although those with a temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius or more will only be able to do so in the last hour with special measures in place.
Those with COVID-19 or who are under quarantine will not be able to vote, affecting about 350 people, according to local media.
Prime minister and leader of the ruling Popular Action Party (PAP), Lee Hsien Loong, had brought forward the election, which was to be run no later than April 2021.
His motivation, he said, was that there be a solid government in place to cope with the epidemic, which has caused more than 45,000 infections and 26 deaths in the city-state, until a vaccine is available.
Another reason is a looming crisis as the authorities expect GDP to shrink this year by between 4 and 7 percent due to restrictions and economic paralysis during the epidemic.
With 5.6 million residents, Singapore has already restarted much of its economy, but flights and tourism remain practically paralyzed and being an international financial center, it is greatly affected by the interruption to transactions and international trade.
The opposition comes divided with 10 parties in the polls and only the Workers’ Party has so far had a presence in parliament, with nine seats compared to 83 of the PAP, the only political force that appears in all constituencies.
One group that could surprise is the Singapore Progressive Party, founded in 2019 and backed by Lee Hsien Yang, the president’s brother. The pair has a strained relationship for both political and family reasons.
The opposition has pledged to increase political transparency, create universal health care and lower the voting age from 21 to 18 years.
Additionally, some opponents advocate reducing the number of foreign workers – 25 percent of the population – and inequality in a country where the prime minister earns SG$2.2 million ($1.5 million) annually. EFE-EPA