Voting in Singapore’s election has been extended after coronavirus infection control measures led to long queues and delays at polling stations.
Voting is mandatory in the affluent city-state but many fretted about the risks as they lined up in masks for as long as an hour to cast their ballots on Friday, with jobs at the top of their agenda as the pandemic threatens to cause Singapore’s worst recession.
The People’s Action Party (PAP), in power since independence in 1965, is expected by analysts to carry Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to another comfortable, and probably final, victory.
Lee, the 68-year-old son of Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, has been premier since 2004. He has already flagged his intention to step down in the next few years, but first wants a fresh mandate to overcome the coronavirus crisis.
As he queued to vote, a video widely shared on social media showed his wife tapping him on the shoulder to remind him to keep his distance when he strayed too close to the person in front.
All around the city, election officials wearing visors enforced distancing rules and took voters’ temperatures.
The delays convinced the election authority to drop a requirement for voters to wear gloves, and by evening it had extended voting by two hours to 2200 (0000 AEST on Saturday).
Since a coronavirus lockdown eased in June after two months, the number of new daily cases has crept back into double figures, excluding the migrant workers living in dormitories where infection rates have been far higher.
Social distancing rules constrained campaigning, and no party rallies were allowed, but opposition parties and rights groups still warned that holding the election now could distract from government efforts to tackle the virus.
Singapore has one of the lowest COVID-19 fatality rates in the world and initially earned widespread praise for its efforts. But subsequent mass outbreaks in cramped migrant worker dormitories persuaded the government to keep schools and businesses closed for longer.