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2020-07-08 20:41:00  2303587
Face masks and fist bumps: Singapore's pandemic poll
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By Catherine Lai

SINGAPORE, July 8 (AFP) -- Face masks at polling stations, rallies banned and candidates greeting voters with fist bumps: Singapore holds a general election on Friday even as it recovers from a major coronavirus outbreak.

Here is a look at campaigning during the pandemic, and safety measures the affluent city-state has rolled out to protect voters from the lingering risk of falling prey to the virus:

Observers say the ban on election rallies will likely hinder Singapore's small crop of opposition parties. AFP
Observers say the ban on election rallies will likely hinder Singapore's small crop of opposition parties. AFP

How has the virus affected the campaign?

Rallies are banned to reduce the risk of infection, but mask-wearing candidates are allowed to meet constituents and campaign door-to-door in small groups.

Fist bumps have replaced handshakes as, under official election guidelines, contact must be minimised.

Campaigning began last week and has generally been muted, but there were raucous moments at the weekend when crowds of rival supporters tried to out-chant each other.

This prompted a warning from the elections department that campaigners shouting party slogans risked spreading the virus. 

Candidates have been given extra airtime on national TV to address voters and have been livestreaming campaign pitches using internet platforms such as Zoom and Facebook.

Will this help or hinder the government?

Observers say the ban on election rallies will likely hinder the small crop of opposition parties, who struggle to communicate directly with voters in a country where the mainstream media is largely pro-government.

"The resource differences in terms of packaging and getting messages out on the mainstream media makes a big difference," Ian Chong, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, told AFP.

The government however says all candidates have a chance to get their message across due to extra TV airtime. It has also provided venues for all candidates to livestream speeches. 

And some opposition groups think that a largely virtual campaign may have helped them.

"In a way, this does level the playing field and can also save some parties from expending unnecessary financial resources, especially if their rallies were sparsely attended," Jose Raymond, chairman of the Singapore People's Party, told the Today news site.

But Singapore's weak and divided opposition holds just a handful of parliament seats and is no threat to the People's Action Party (PAP), which has ruled for decades and is assured of victory.

What precautions are in place at polling stations?

Voters will be required to wear masks and be given a recommended two-hour window to cast their ballots, while senior citizens will be encouraged to vote in the morning.

Everyone must go through a temperature screening, sanitise their hands and put on disposable gloves before receiving their ballot paper. 

People have been asked to leave the polling station within five minutes of voting.

Polling booths and pens will be cleaned at least once every half hour. 

What about virus patients and those in quarantine?

Coronavirus patients and people in quarantine -- those suspected of having the virus, or identified as a close contact of someone who has it -- will not be allowed to vote.

But special arrangements will be made for voters who are isolating at home -- often people who have recently returned from abroad -- or those who are unwell.

They will be allowed to leave their homes to vote during a one-hour slot on polling day, but they must go directly to the polling station and back and cannot take public transport.

Election officials will wear full protective equipment during the special voting hour and disinfect the booth and pens after every voter.

Fist bumps have replaced handshakes on the campaign trail as Singapore prepares for a general election. AFP
Fist bumps have replaced handshakes on the campaign trail as Singapore prepares for a general election. AFP



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