Singaporeans vote in shadow of pandemic and recession

Singaporean voters wait for their turn inside the Dunearn Secondary School polling station on Friday, July 10, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 10 July 2020

Singaporeans vote in shadow of pandemic and recession

  • Some had voiced doubt whether it was worth risking going to polling stations
  • Voting is mandatory in on the small Southeast Asian island

SINGAPORE: Singaporean voters fretted over the risks of COVID-19 as they queued in masks to cast their ballots on Friday, amid an uptick in new infections and prospects of the city-state’s economy entering its worst-ever recession.
In power since independence in 1965, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is widely expected by analysts to carry Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to another comfortable, and probably final victory.
Lee, the son of Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, has held the premiership since 2004. Aged 68, Lee has already flagged his intention to step aside in coming years, but he wanted a fresh mandate to steer the country out of the coronavirus crisis.
As the prime minister queued up to cast his vote, a video widely shared on social media showed his wife tapping him on the shoulder to remind him to socially distance when he strayed too close to the person in front.
At polling stations round the city, election officials clad in face shields enforced distancing rules and took voters’ temperatures as they entered polling booths.
“This is a very dangerous time to hold an election even though many precautions were taken,” said Mayank Goel, 21, a biomedical engineering student after voting.
Some Singaporeans had voiced doubt whether it was worth risking going to polling stations, though voting is mandatory in on the small Southeast Asian island that has become wealthy by being a banking, trade and transport hub for the region.
Since easing its lockdown last month, the number of new daily cases in Singapore has crept back into double figures, excluding the migrant workers living in dormitories where infection rates have been far higher.
And opposition parties had criticized Lee for calling the election, warning that it could hit public health and distract from government efforts to tackle the virus.
Social distancing rules constrained campaigning, and there were no party rallies allowed.
Singapore has one of the lowest COVID-19 fatality rates in the world and initially earned widespread praise for its efforts. But subsequent mass outbreaks in cramped migrant worker dormitories stained that early success, and persuaded the government to keep schools and businesses closed for longer.
Seen as a measure of approval for both the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis and the next generation of leaders, the poll results will be closely watched as even small shifts in the PAP’s popularity can lead to major policy changes.
When concerns around immigration and jobs flared in 2011, the PAP polled a record-low 60 percent of the vote and tightened international hiring rules to address voters’ sensitivities.
Those concern have come to the fore again as the country emerges from lockdown to face its deepest recession.
Singapore is not the first country in Asia to hold elections during the pandemic — South Korea held parliamentary elections in April.
But with just 2.65 million voters in Singapore, election organizers counted on a fast, hygienic vote to minimize risks.
Voters were given a recommended time slot to vote. Inside the polling stations, they had to self-scan identity cards and sanitized their hands before receiving a ballot paper.
While officials had hoped it would take voters no more than five minutes to cast their ballot, some people said they waited for up to an hour as lines formed initially outside some polling stations.
Delays persuaded the election authority to drop a requirement for voters to wear gloves, and by around mid-morning the lines had receded.
Sample counts are expected soon after polling closes at 8 p.m. (1200 GMT) with final results due in the early hours of Saturday. A record 11 parties are contesting.

Back to work: Jakarta lifts ban on sending workers to MENA

This picture taken on October 13, 2019 shows Indonesian migrant workers gathering near Victoria Park in Hong Kong. (AFP)
Updated 08 August 2020

Back to work: Jakarta lifts ban on sending workers to MENA

  • $260m revenue boost to accelerate Indonesia’s economic recovery amid pandemic

JAKARTA: After a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, Indonesia is set to send almost 90,000 migrant workers to overseas countries, including those in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.

The move will deliver almost 3.8 trillion rupiahs ($260.8 million) in foreign remittances, officials said.

Migrant workers could begin leaving within weeks after the Manpower Ministry issued guidelines to conform with the country’s pandemic protocols.

“In order to boost the national economic recovery and considering that several countries have reopened to foreign workers, we think it is necessary to allow Indonesian migrant workers to work in destination countries, while complying with health protocols,” Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah told a press conference.

She said migrant workers whose employment had been suspended in recent months could generate about 3.8 trillion rupiahs in revenue and their remittances could accelerate Indonesia’s economic recovery, especially in their hometowns and villages.

Fauziyah said the decision was made after consultation with domestic stakeholders and was based on updates from Indonesian embassies and trade missions abroad.

The government focused on 14 countries — Algeria, Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Kuwait, Maldives, Nigeria, the UAE, Poland, Qatar, Taiwan, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe — that wanted to welcome foreign workers back, despite the pandemic.

“We appreciate the ministry’s decision to lift the suspension, even though the reopening is still only to several countries,” Kausar Tanjung, secretary-general of Indonesian Labor Exporters Association (APJATI), told Arab News.

Most APJATI members are exporters of domestic and informal workers, who make up more than half of the 88,973 migrant workers whose departures to 22 countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had been put on hold since March.

Ayub Basalamah, chairman of APJATI, said that it was time the March ministerial decree was revoked, adding that the association was “ready to comply with the health protocols in place” as part of the new rule.

The ministry said that Kuwait is willing to welcome workers from Indonesia in all formal sectors except health, while Algeria is opening its construction sector and Qatar its oil and gas sector. Indonesian workers in Turkey and the UAE will be allowed to work in the hospitality sector.

Placement of Indonesia’s migrant workers in the UAE is in line with a temporary travel corridor agreed between the two countries.

The agreement was announced last week to help business people, government officials and diplomats, and is based on a $22.9 billion investment deal signed during President Joko Widodo’s visit to Abu Dhabi in January this year.

The APJATI said it will send domestic workers with secure employment to Hong Kong and Taiwan soon, while neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam remain closed to foreign workers in the informal sector.