Singapore votes in 'crisis election' as 2.65 million go to the polls

After nine frantic days of campaigning, voters are ready to head to 1,100 polling centres to pick their MPs for the 14th Parliament


TODAY, 2.65 million Singaporeans go to the ballot box to vote in what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called a "crisis election".

This will be the nation's most unusual general election (GE) as the black swan event that is the Covid-19 pandemic continues to unfurl here and around the world, impacting not just lives and livelihoods but also how elections are conducted - resulting in strict safe distancing and various other measures implemented at polling stations.

Nine hectic days of campaigning - carried out mostly online due to the pandemic - gave way to a mandatory 24-hour cooling-off period on Thursday.

The campaign saw issues ranging from the Covid-19 crisis, the economy and jobs, to social safety nets and political diversity, raised and keenly debated by the different parties.

Now, all that's left to do is for citizens to head to one of 1,100 polling centres and mark that all-important "X" on their ballot papers beside the candidate or group of candidates of their choice - to fill a total of 93 seats in the next Parliament representing 31 constituencies.

The polling stations will stay open from 8am to 8pm. Seniors aged 65 years and above have been assigned voting time-bands in the morning, to minimise their interaction with younger voters.

For those with a temperature higher than 37.5 deg C, are unwell, or are serving stay-home notice (SHN) but still wish to vote, they can do so during a special time-band of 7pm to 8pm.

For everyone else, the Elections Department (ELD) has advised voters to turn up during their two-hour time slots as indicated on their poll cards.

They can check the queue situation at their designated polling station online before turning up with their hardcopy or electronic poll card, as well as their NRIC or passport. The voter turnout for the last election in 2015 was 93.56 per cent.

Some of the 6,570 eligible Singaporean voters living abroad were able to do their duty as early as Thursday afternoon.

There are 10 overseas polling stations for this GE. These are located at the Singapore government's high commissions, embassies or consulates in Beijing, Canberra, Dubai, Hong Kong, London, New York, San Francisco, Shanghai, Tokyo and Washington.

For the first time, two hotels in Singapore - Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and JW Marriott Singapore South Beach - have been designated as special polling stations to cater to those serving their 14-day SHN at these hotels.

The Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19 Special Arrangements) Act allows these voters to vote outside their electoral divisions.

Once voting has ended and the ballots have been tallied, all eyes will be on National Environment Agency (NEA) chief executive Tan Meng Dui, the GE's Returning Officer, who will announce the winners and losers for each of the 31 constituencies.

But before these official scores are out, ELD will first reveal the "sample count" results for each of the 17 group representation constituencies (GRCs) and 14 single-seat wards.

These sample scores have been tallied for several elections but were first made public at the last GE in September 2015.

They are meant to prevent unnecessary speculation and reliance on unofficial sources of information before all the votes are accounted for and the final results are announced.

Sample counts have a 95 per cent chance of being within four percentage points of the actual count.

At the start of the counting process after 8pm, a hundred ballot papers from each polling station will be randomly chosen by a counting assistant in the presence of the candidates and their counting agents.

The votes will be added up and weighted accordingly to account for the difference in the number of votes cast at each polling station. The sample count for each constituency will be shown as a percentage of the valid votes earned by the candidates.

The sample count results will be published on the ELD's website. The department has said, however, that the final election results could still be different.

Previous elections have seen the final results released at around midnight or so, but this time they are expected to be out sooner as the ELD is using counting machines to tally the ballot papers.

A manual count will still remain, however. The first round of counting will be done by hand, and a second round will be carried out using the machines, the ELD said last week.

Once the results are verified, NEA's Mr Tan will announce them, constituency by constituency, on national television and radio.

There is, of course, the possibility of a recount of votes in some constituencies.

In a first for an election, a recount will be automatically conducted if the difference in votes between candidates is 2 per cent or less of the total number of valid votes cast. In the past, candidates or their counting agents had to apply for a recount.

At GE2015, residents in Aljunied GRC were kept waiting late into the night after a recount was declared.

It was shortly after 3am when it was finally announced that the opposition Workers' Party had managed to hold on to their prized constituency with 50.95 of the votes. That meant they edged past their People's Action Party opponents by a margin of just over 2,600 votes, or 1.9 per cent.

Unlike in previous elections, gatherings at assembly centres for supporters to wait for the results are not allowed due to safe distancing measures in place. Instead, the vast majority of people will - as they have been throughout the campaign - rely on their smartphones and TV to get the results as they are announced.