SINGAPORE: Officials in Singapore extended voting in the city-state’s general election by two hours on Friday night after apologising for long queues at polling stations.
Polls would remain open until 10pm in order to give everyone a chance to vote, said the Elections Department. It said people arriving outside their assigned time for casting their vote had been a factor in lengthy lines.
As of 8pm, 96% of registered voters — or 2,565,000 people — had cast their ballots, compared with 2,304,331 or 93.6% in 2015, the department said. Voting is compulsory in Singapore.
The election results, expected early Saturday, are almost certain to confirm another term for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), the only government Singaporeans have known in the country’s 55-year history.
Wearing masks and observing strict social distancing at polling booths, all voters were having their temperature taken as authorities worked to ensure safety amid the Covid-19 outbreak that has shaken the city-state.
While Singapore bans opinion polls during election campaigns, analysts and the opposition parties expect the PAP to form the next government. It has never won less than 93% of parliamentary seats, despite seeing its popular vote slip as low as 60% in 2011. It improved its showing to 69.9% in 2015.
“I think the queues are a bit longer. But the officers are trying their best,” Prime Minister Lee was quoted as saying by Channel News Asia before casting his vote on Friday morning.
“From what I know, the teething problems have been sorted out and it’s running smoothly now.”
His PAP came ino the election confident that voters would endorse its virus response, said Bridget Welsh, honorary research associate of the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute Malaysia.
“I think they will get a majority of the voters to do that,” she said. “But at the same time, the campaign itself has been very negative. The PAP has been on the defensive. The issues that have been raised will be things that PAP will have to grapple with irrespective of what happens in the contest.
“It puts the PAP very much in the hot seat given the fact that they have not controlled the election narrative.”
The Elections Department acknowledged there had been longer-than-usual queues for voting. Citizens are normally given an assigned time for casting their vote, and this year there is a mobile app on which they can get updates on queues at their local stations
“To address the long wait, we did away with the requirement to don disposable gloves, as voters would already be required to sanitise their hands,” the department said in a statement.
“We observed that this step in particular contributed to the longer than usual voting times. Gloves are still available for voters who would like to use both sanitiser and gloves.”
Friday’s election is expected to be Lee’s final campaign before he hands power to the “fourth generation” of PAP officials led by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who have helped spearhead the government’s response to the pandemic.
Any drop in support compared with the last election in 2015 — or even a more extreme scenario where the PAP fails to win a two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time — could potentially affect Lee’s succession plan or prompt the government to adopt more populist measures, as it did in 2011 following its worst-ever result.