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SINGAPORE - Polling stations will remain open until 10pm so that voters can cast their votes, the Elections Department (ELD) announced on Friday (July 10).
The exceptions to this are polling stations in designated stay-home notice facilities.
The polls were initially scheduled to close at 8pm. However, several stations across the island saw long queues during the day, including Palm View Primary School in Sengkang.
The ELD said on Friday that although the queue situation across most of the stations had improved, "a small number" continued to see long queues. "This extension in hours will allow enough time for all voters to cast their votes," it added.
Opposition parties criticised the move to extend voting by two hours.
Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Tan Cheng Bock said it was a "highly irregular" move which has "compromised the integrity of the process".
"The PSP is deeply committed to the democratic institutions established in Singapore," he said, adding that announcing an extension 90 minutes before polls were to close was "done with little thought about the implications and consequences".
"This is a direct result of bad planning and incessant urge to rush an election during the (Covid-19) period. This underscores the disregard for public health, as well as our democratic processes," Dr Tan said.
He added that based on the party's study of the Parliamentary Elections Act, it is of the view that the Returning Officer has no power to extend polling hours, especially on the day itself after polling starts.
A notice of the extension of polling hours was published on the government gazette at 7.10pm.
In a statement on Friday evening, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) similarly called the extension "highly irregular" and unprecedented.
The party added that some of its polling agents had to leave the stations as they understood that polling would end at 8pm.
"This will leave some of our polling stations unattended when the boxes are sealed and may render the results questionable. We call on the ELD to rescind the decision and to end polling at 8pm," said SDP.
The National Solidarity Party's (NSP) secretary-general Spencer Ng said his party was surprised at the announcement.
"We have already objected to holding the election during this pandemic as the reasons are clear to everyone. And now with this delay, it places further undue stress and burden on Singaporeans especially with the last minute announcement," he said.
Peoples Voice leader Lim Tean called the extension "outrageous and totally out of order". He added: "We were touring the polling stations today and from what we could see there was only a trickle of voters by 4pm. We are reserving our rights to challenge the decision and its consequences."
People's Power Party chief Goh Meng Seng said his party would protest the move and demand an explanation from ELD. "This is very irregular in Singapore's electoral history... I'm not (very) happy about this arrangement. It is not our fault that the polling hours have to be extended because it's the ELD's methodology that has caused the extension."
In a statement after 9.30pm, the ELD said: "Political parties and candidates are advised that there is no change to the polling and counting procedures. They can continue to exercise their rights and obligations in ensuring a fair and open election."
It added that candidates and polling agents will still be allowed in the polling stations during the extended hours, and can witness the sealing of ballot boxes when polls close and accompany the transport of sealed ballot boxes from the polling stations to counting centres.
At the counting centres, candidates and counting agents can also observe the counting process, give their views on rejected ballots, and affix their seals or sign on sealed ballot boxes after the announcements of results, the ELD said.
Political scientist Bilveer Singh said such an extension may be unprecedented, but was the right thing to do.
"Rather than cutting it off and stopping people from voting, which will be more damaging, I'd rather extend it so that everyone is able to cast their vote and then we deal with whatever the consequences after that. I think what's most important is that everybody's voice needs to be heard," he said.
"An election is such a big thing for a nation… I think the mindset must be: We must make adjustments. Simple as that."
Red Dot United's chairman Michelle Lee said the extension would be tough on all those on duty, but that she understood that there can be unexpected situations. "The long lines show people's determination to vote, we hope everyone will be safe and healthy," she said.
Singapore People's Party (SPP) secretary-general Steve Chia expressed concern that the extension coincided with the special voting hour for those who are unwell or on Stay-Home Notice.
"We immediately informed all our polling agents to stay safe and away. The most important priority is for them is to protect themselves and stay safe for their families," he said, adding that SPP polling agents were asked to return after voting closes at 10pm to witness the sealing of the ballot boxes.
A special voting hour of 7pm to 8pm had initially been set aside for those on stay-home notice, on medical leave due to acute respiratory infection, or who have a fever, to cast their votes.
In view of the extended hours, election officials will ask such voters at stations that still have long queues to identify themselves.
These voters will be isolated in a separate holding area, in order to prevent them from mixing with other voters.
Once the queue has cleared, election officials will then arrange for them to vote.
The ELD said it strongly urged such voters to check the queue situation for their polling station at VoteQ.gowhere.gov.sg
If the queue is long, such voters are urged to arrive at the polling station only at 9pm, or risk facing a long wait to cast their vote.
For polling stations which have no queue, such voters will be able to cast their votes as planned.
The ELD said: "(We seek) the understanding and cooperation of all voters as we seek to clear the long queues at a small number of stations, while ensuring safe voting for all voters."
At Palm View Primary School, Madam Lim Swee Geok, 54, and her daughter Chia Yet Lim, 30, voted at 8.30pm.
They had tried to vote three times earlier in the day - 11am, 5pm, and 6.30pm - when queues were long, with more than 200 people estimated to be in line.
Madam Lim said the extended voting hours were good, but added that the earlier queues had been "very long" and she had gone home instead of waiting as she was not feeling well.
"I almost didn't want to vote, this is the first time that voting has been so difficult and so tiring," said Madam Lim, who is voting in Sengkang GRC.
Ms Esther Lee, 40, who was also at Palm View Primary, said she had tried to vote earlier at 5pm during her timeslot but the queue had stretched to about 500m.
"It was definitely an inconvenience, but this is once every five years so with this Covid-19 situation it's understandable," said Ms Lee. She too voted at around 8.30pm after hearing about the extended voting hours.
Voter Raymond Francis, 50, who works in corporate communications, called the extended voting hours "a godsend".
He said he and his wife were originally given the timeband of 4pm to 6pm to vote at the MOE language centre at Newton. When they got there at 4pm, they saw an "incredibly long" line of more than a hundred people.
"We felt it was quite crowded and didn't want to queue under such conditions - under the heat, and we were worried about social distancing as well," he said, adding that they left and intended to return at 7.45pm.
However, after hearing about the extended voting hours, they decide to come back only at 8.15pm. Conditions then were much better, he said.
"When we went to the centre there were no queues, we just got in... it was seamless."
Additional reporting by Tee Zhuo, Yuen Sin, Cara Wong, Hariz Baharudin, Ling Chang Hong and Kok Yufeng