SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore will head to the polls on July 10 after its prime minister said he was satisfied a ballot could be held safely despite criticism that such a move might endanger voters during the coronavirus pandemic.
The tiny city-state, which has one of Asia's highest tallies of COVID-19, largely fuelled by mass outbreaks in migrant workers' dormitories, eased strict lockdown rules last week that had been in place for more than two months.
"I have decided to hold the general election now," Lee Hsien Loong said in an address to the nation.
"We are still in the midst of COVID-19, so it will not be a normal election campaign," Lee added, saying he was satisfied the election could be carried out safely and that parties could campaign effectively.
June 30 has been set as the nomination day for candidates.
The government was required to call an election by April, 2021, but there had been persistent speculation that Lee would call a vote sooner.
Lee, whose party has comfortably won every election in Singapore since its independence in 1965, said the virus situation had stabilised but challenges lay ahead and his government needed a fresh mandate.
Some opposition parties have said holding a vote during the pandemic could hit public health and distract from government efforts to tackle the virus.
South Korea held elections in April, while several U.S. states have held primaries ahead of a planned Nov. 3 election and Serbia recently voted in Europe's first post-lockdown ballot.
Rights groups, such as ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, have long criticised Singapore's electoral process for favouring the ruling party.
Last week the group said virus-related measures that limit physical campaigning and rallies could further disadvantage smaller parties.
Singapore's elections department says it is committed to holding a "free and fair" vote, providing alternatives for political parties to reach out to voters, through additional television broadcasts and live-streaming venues.
Having won plaudits for its early containment efforts, Singapore imposed one of the world's strictest lockdowns to tackle a surge in imported cases and outbreaks in cramped workers' dormitories.
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)
(Reporting by John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
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