Feature: General election held with caution in Singapore amid pandemic

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by Wang Lili

SINGAPORE, July 10 (Xinhua) — Twenty minutes prior to the opening of the polling station at the Dunearn Secondary School in northwestern part of Singapore, some 20 voters have already formed a queue all wearing face masks and staying one-meter distance.

This is one of the 1,100 polling stations island-wide to cater for 2.65 million eligible voters from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Friday. Conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the general election is different from previous ones with precautionary measures taken and paramount issues to tackle.

Most of the voters in the line are elderly, as Singapore’s Elections Department (ELD) has allotted the time slots from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. to the seniors aged 65 and above, some of whom came with walking sticks or on wheelchairs.

Sherwin Chong, 36, also turned up, for he is in the government service and needs to work at the recommended voting time band even though Friday is a public holiday, so that his colleagues may rotate and cast their votes.

After temperature checks, he was directed into the polling area, which is set up in the school canteen dining area. Besides red markings on the floor to remind voters of social distancing, there are also yellow stickers with numbers on to indicate the voting procedures.

Chong handed in his identity card and polling card to the polling officer to verify and operate the e-registration, pulling down his mask briefly to make his face visible. He then sanitized his hands with hand sanitizers and put on disposable gloves before receiving the ballot paper. He went to the polling booth afterwards to mark his ballot paper and dropped it in the ballot box.

At the polling booth, voters may use their own pen or a new self-inking pen, which allows them to easily mark an “X” for their choices.

“Quite a number of preventive measures are put in place and the voting is well-organized, taking me five or 10 minutes,” said Chong, who has taken part in the general election for the third time.

Voters under 65 years of age are advised to head to the ballot box from 12:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The last hour from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. is set for voters on compulsory Stay-Home Notice or medical certificate for acute respiratory infection, or are having a fever. COVID-19 patients and voters who are on Quarantine Order for COVID-19 are not allowed to vote.

Besides, 6,570 overseas voters may vote in 10 overseas polling stations worldwide.

As of 12:00 noon, 840,000 voters, or 31 percent of the total, have already casted votes, ELD said.

According to ELD, cleaners are deployed at the polling station to clean items and areas such as the self-inking pens and polling booths. In addition, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., these polling equipment will be sanitized after each use by voters, and the election officials will enhance their gear of surgical masks and gloves to isolation gowns, N95 masks and surgical gloves.

Voters were also very careful, especially the elderly who were more vulnerable to the deadly virus. Some wore plastic face shields above their face masks, some wore their own gloves or brought their own pens.

As of Thursday noon, the total confirmed cases in the country stood at 45,423 since the first case recorded on Jan. 23.

Amid the spread of the virus, Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob dissolved the parliament and issue the Writ of Election on June 23. For this year’s election, the lion city is divided into 14 single-member constituencies and 17 group representation constituencies. A total of 191 representatives from 11 political parties and one independent candidate joined in the competition for 93 seats of the parliament on June 30. The polling day falls on a cloudy Friday after nine-day campaigning and a cooling day on July 9.

Singapore Prime Minister and Secretary-General of the People’s Action Party Lee Hsien Loong told reporters earlier that this is a general election for the most important issues concerning the country at the moment of the crisis, which is the most serious for the city state since its independence in 1965.

For Chong, as some of his fellow Singaporeans lose jobs as companies hit by the coronavirus lay off employees, the most outstanding issue is to ensure Singaporeans maintain their jobs or be given new employment opportunities once jobless so as to tide over the crisis towards the future. Enditem

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