Wearing masks to protect against coronavirus, Singaporeans have voted in an election that is expected to return Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s long-governing party to power.
Polling was extended by two hours until 10pm local time after strict safety measures in place for south-east Asia’s first national election amid the pandemic delayed voting at some stations.
The Election Department said 96% of 2.65 million voters had cast ballots as of 8pm, when the polls were originally due to close, but there were still some polling stations with long lines.
Several opposition parties said the voting extension was unprecedented, “highly irregular” and compromised the election’s integrity.
They also said it endangered public health because the last hour of voting had been reserved for those with fevers or under isolation after returning from overseas.
Voting is compulsory in the city-state, one of a handful of countries that has held elections during the pandemic.
The Election Department earlier dropped a requirement that disposable gloves be worn during voting to cut waiting times.
The health crisis and concerns over an economic recession were expected to cause voters to opt for stability under the People’s Action Party (PAP).
Ten small opposition parties contested the 93 parliamentary seats up for grabs, mostly on a one-on-one basis against the PAP.
The opposition urged voters to reduce the PAP’s overwhelming majority in parliament to deny it a “blank cheque”.
The PAP has dominated politics since 1959, when Mr Lee’s father, Lee Kuan Yew, became Singapore’s first prime minister and built the resource-poor city-state into one of the world’s richest nations during 31 years in office.
In 2015, the party won 69.9% of the total vote and 93% of parliamentary seats.
But it has also been criticised for tight government control, media censorship and use of oppressive laws and civil lawsuits against dissidents.
Mr Lee and his wife, Temasek Holdings chief executive Ho Ching, lined up outside a school at about noon to cast their ballots.
He said the safety protocols were practical, although they led to longer-than-expected lines.
Mr Lee has faced opposition from his estranged younger brother, Lee Hsien Yang, who said the PAP has turned into an elitist party.
The younger Lee joined an opposition party last month but is not running in the election.
The prime minister has said the polls are about ensuring a strong Government to secure the country’s future, not his family feud.
The polls come just weeks after the country emerged from a two-month lockdown aimed at controlling one of Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.
The nation of 5.8 million people has reported more than 45,000 cases.
While coronavirus cases have mostly declined, new daily cases still top 100.
The Government determined the election could be held safely with the number of polling stations increased from 880 to 1,100 and other safety measures such as masks and temperature checks.
Voters were given a two-hour window to cast their ballots to reduce crowding.
Election officials wore full personal protective gear and polling booths were sanitised every half hour.
People being treated for Covid-19 or under quarantine at home were not allowed to vote.
Results are expected to begin arriving later on Friday,