Mask-clad Singaporeans started voting at 8 am (0000 GMT) on Friday in snap parliamentary elections being held even as the country deals with hundreds of new daily coronavirus cases.
After a short campaign in which public rallies were not allowed due to the virus, voters are having their temperatures taken and donning disposable gloves before entering booths to choose from 192 candidates representing 11 political parties chasing 93 seats.
The outcome is expected to be business as usual, with opposition parties appealing to voters not to issue a “blank cheque” to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which took 83 seats in 2015 elections and has won at least 60 per cent of the popular vote in every election held since Singaporean independence in 1965.
The PAP is led by Lee Hsien Loong, prime minister since 2004 and son of the Lee Kuan Yew, one of Asia’s best-known politicians during the late 20th century, an autocrat who steered the tiny city-state toward prosperity.
But in late June, the prime minister’s brother Lee Hsien Yang shook up what would ordinarily be a staid campaign by backing the new Progress Singapore Party (PSP) – after a sibling squabble over the late Lee’s estate.
But Friday’s results will be mostly watched for the PAP’s margin of victory, with its candidates repeatedly raising the need for a “strong” government to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday the Ministry of Health confirmed 125 new cases, taking the total to 45,423.
Singapore’s gross domestic product contracted by up to 7 per cent in 2020, according to official projections.
“Our economy has been badly hit, though the full economic impact of the outbreak is still ahead of us,” the prime minister said in a final pre-vote statement.
Lee called on voters to “not just to return the PAP to government. But also to give it a strong mandate.”
Sylvia Lim, chair of the Workers’ Party, which won six seats in the last election held in 2015, said that “robust democracies where changes of the party in power at election time are considered normal” also dealt successfully with the pandemic, citing countries such as New Zealand and South Korea.
PSP leader Tan Cheng Bock called for a legislature that “that reflects all views, and not just the PAP view or the group-think of a single political party.”
Around 2.65 million people are eligible to vote before polling closes at 8 pm, with results expected from around three hours later.
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)
More than 1bn school children worldwide affected by COVID-19, says UN Chief
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted the largest educational disruption in history that has affected more than 1 billion school students worldwide, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday.
“In mid-July, schools were closed in more than 160 countries, affecting over 1 billion students,” Guterres said in a video address, marking the launch of a new global policy brief on Education and COVID-19.
It is true that the schooling crisis existed long before the pandemic, as around 250 million children were out of school worldwide, but COVID-19 amplified it and brought the world to the edge of what Guterres described as a “generational catastrophe.”
While commending efforts to keep up education via distant learning, the UN chief said that many students stayed out of reach, for example, learners with disabilities, those in minority of disadvantaged communities, displaced and refugee students.
The schooling crisis has, in turn, had a knock-on effect on child nutrition, child marriage, gender equality and fair distribution of unpaid care work, among other things.
As elaborated by Guterres, the proposed brief addresses the crisis management through four steps, including the reopening of schools, increase of education funding, expansion of outreach, and modernisation of education through boost of investments in digital literacy and infrastructure.
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)
Iran to fine infringement of coronavirus measures
Iran’s coronavirus crisis unit on Tuesday said it would introducte fines for infringements of coronavirus measures such as wearing of face masks, the authorities announced on Tuesday.
“It is unacceptable that some people still refuse to wear a mask in spite rising infection numbers, putting their fellow citizens at risk,” Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said.
He said that the ministry was fully in support of the crisis unit’s plan to sanction defaulters.
“Since the end of July, around 200 people have died from the coronavirus per day, due to the high number of new infections.
“Around 2,700 new cases were reported on Tuesday,“Harirchi said.
Meanwhile, the Iranian medical association has also warned of staff shortages.
Overall, there have been a total of 314,786 cases and 17,617 deaths related to Covid-19.
There have also been disagreements within the Iranian Government regarding August’s Ashura festival, which routinely draws huge crowds.
While clerics and Rowhani insist the festival will take place, experts said new infections would be unavoidable if the celebrations went ahead as usual.
However, as cancellation seemed unlikely, social distancing rules and mandatory mask wearing are to be enforced at the religious ceremony marking the death of Hussein, the third Shiite Imam.
Edited By: Yahaya Isah/Maharazu Ahmed (NAN)
Dollar slips after political wrangling slows rally
A dollar rebound faltered on Tuesday as political wrangling over a United States relief plan and the gloomy outlook weighed on the currency.
After its worst month in a decade in July, the greenback started August on a firm note as some investors trimmed their short positions.
That only carried it so far, and the dollar edged down 0.2 per cent on Tuesday against a basket of currencies.
The euro – which gained five per cent at the dollar’s expense in July – inched up on the day, last up 0.2 per cent at $1.17875.
“I think the eurozone recovery will be a lot faster than the United States recovery and that growth differential will continue to drive higher,’’ Marshall Gittler, FX analyst at BDSwiss, said in a note.
The Aussie dollar edged ahead nearly 0.3 per cent after the central bank delivered no surprises by holding policy steady.
Australia’s central bank predicted the economic recovery will be uneven as the country’s second biggest state Victoria locks down to fight a resurgence of the virus.
Despite a slowdown in new United States virus cases and encouraging factory data, investors are reserving judgment on whether a United States economy with 30 million people out of work can really lead the world’s recovery.
Talks on a potential further economic relief package are ongoing, though top Democrats in the United States Congress and White House negotiators on Monday said they had made progress.
“The fiscal wrangling in the United States is the next key test for risk sentiment and if they manage to get a deal – which seems likely – that could be supportive of risk sentiment.’’
Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde (NAN)
Early voting in Belarusian presidential election begins
Polling stations for casting ballots in the Belarusian presidential election have opened in most regions of the country for citizens unable to vote during the national election day on Aug. 9, according to a Sputnik correspondent.
Early voting will take place from Aug. 4 to Aug. 8.
Polling stations will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (from 07:00 to 11:00 GMT) and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The voting is taking place in the presence of at least two members of the precinct election commission at the commission’s office.
According to the Belarusian Central Election Commission, more than 6.8 million citizens will be able to vote in the current presidential election, including 5,319 people currently residing abroad.
A total of 5,767 polling places have been set up for the vote, including 44 in Belarusian embassies and consulates in 36 foreign countries.
However, early voting is not being held in sanatoriums, preventoriums, hospitals, and other health organisations providing medical care in stationary conditions.
The presidential election in Belarus is scheduled for Aug. 9.
Five people are registered as candidates, including the current head of state, Alexander Lukashenko.
The campaigning started on July 14 and will last until Aug. 8.
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)