Year in Review 2020: Readers' top newsmakers of the year

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PHOTO: Getty Images
PHOTO: Getty Images

SINGAPORE — In a year that has been out of the ordinary, there has been no shortage of newsmakers who had a major impact on the domestic front and around the world.

The raging COVID-19 pandemic across the globe meant that key world leaders have had a far greater impact on the lives of Yahoo News Singapore readers in 2020, with their decisions on lockdowns, travel restrictions and health regulations affecting their jobs, businesses and travel.

Meanwhile in Singapore, the government’s decision to hold the general elections amid the pandemic also created important newsmakers among the candidates, as their capabilities and political ideologies were scrutinised closely by voters.

Yahoo News Singapore held a poll last week to find who is the top newsmaker among the readers. While there is a clear winner, there are some surprising results. Here is the top 10 list of top newsmakers of 2020, as voted by our readers:

US President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally.
US President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally. (PHOTO: AP/Evan Vucci)

1. Donald Trump (35 per cent of poll vote)

Had there not been a pandemic, Donald Trump would likely still have dominated news coverage throughout the year, due to his bid to be re-elected as United States President in November.

But COVID-19 handed the controversial 74-year-old a stern test of whether he could guide his nation safely through the pandemic and exert a positive global influence in the battle against the lethal coronavirus.

Trump has failed on both counts. The US has by far the most number of COVID-19 cases (over 19 million) and deaths (over 330,000) in the world, as Trump’s reluctance to impose lockdowns and mandatory wearing of face masks in his country led to widespread criticism of his handling of this health crisis.

Even after being tested positive for COVID-19 himself in October, Trump continued to ignore recommendations to protect himself and others from the coronavirus as he ramped up his re-election campaign against Joe Biden.

He lost to Biden, who became the President-elect by a margin of 306 electoral college votes to 232. Biden also won the popular vote. True to his combative nature, Trump has yet to concede defeat. He has claimed election fraud and all his legal attempts to reverse his defeat have failed so far.

2. Joe Biden, Dr Jamus Lim (both 13 per cent)

Biden became Trump’s primary rival in US election year after emerging from a hard-fought campaign to be selected by Democrats as their presidential candidate.

There were initial doubts as to whether the 78-year-old former vice-president could overcome Trump, or even garner enough support among the diverse and disparate Democrat supporters. As COVID-19 raged across the US, Biden portrayed himself as a candidate who was sympathetic to the US public’s struggles with the crisis, and receptive to the health and travel advisories by medical experts such as Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Eventually, Biden beat Trump by a margin of 306 electoral college votes to 232 at the November election. Time magazine named him and his running mate Kamala Harris as the its “Person of the Year” – for “changing the American story, for showing that the forces of empathy are greater than the furies of division, for sharing a vision of healing in a grieving world”.

In Singapore, the July General Election also saw many politicians being thrust into the spotlight. In a televised debate a day after Nomination Day, the Workers’ Party’s (WP) Sengkang GRC candidate Dr Jamus Lim became a major talking point for his creditable performance as he crossed swords with the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Dr Lim coined what would become a key phrase of the election, saying that what the WP was trying to deny the PAP was not a mandate, but a “blank cheque”. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the phrase resonated with voters as they hoped for the eventual government to at least be held accountable for its policies and decisions.

The pitch helped Dr Lim become the breakout star of GE2020, as social media praised his debate performance and dissected his “blank cheque” statement. More importantly, his popularity helped his Sengkang GRC team to achieve a momentous victory on Polling Day, delivering WP a second GRC after Aljunied.

Parti Liyani and lawyer Anil Balchandani walking into State Courts.
Parti Liyani and lawyer Anil Balchandani walking into State Courts. (PHOTO: Wan Ting Koh/Yahoo News Singapore)

4. Parti Liyani (10 per cent)

Foreign domestic worker Parti Liyani caught the Singapore public’s attention in September after the Indonesian won her appeal against her conviction of stealing more than $300,000 from the family of prominent businessman Liew Mun Leong.

There was plenty of social media rumination on the challenges faced by groups such as migrant workers in navigating the criminal justice system in Singapore. Parti’s pro-bono lawyer Anil Balchandani earned widespread praise for his persistence to clear his client’s name in the past three years.

Amid the intense public interest in the case, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam delivered a ministerial statement in Parliament to clarify that Liew’s standing in the business community had no say over how the case was handled by the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Singapore Police Force.

5. George Floyd (8 per cent)

George Floyd is an African-American who was arrested after allegedly using a counterfeit US$20 bill at a grocery store in Minneapolis in May. He died after white police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to his neck for over eight minutes during the arrest.

Local protests on the police brutality that caused Floyd’s death spread quickly around the world. Over 2,000 cities and towns across 60 countries saw protests – both peaceful and violent ones – in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which gained considerable support on social media.

The protests saw a cultural reckoning on racial injustice around the world, leading to a wave of monument removals and name changes throughout the world. In the US, there are numerous legislative proposals to combat police misconduct, systemic racism, qualified immunity and police brutality. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has drawn widespread criticism for its hardline rhetoric and aggressive response.

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh speaking during a media doorstop.
Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh speaking during a media doorstop. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

6. Pritam Singh (7 per cent)

WP chief Pritam Singh came of age as a Singapore opposition politician in the July General Election, running a disciplined and focused campaign that eventually resulted in historic gains for his party: 10 parliamentary seats and a second GRC in Sengkang.

It led to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appointing Singh as independent Singapore’s first Leader of the Opposition, who would be provided with the appropriate manpower support and resources to perform the role.

It capped Singh’s rise as the pre-eminent opposition politician over the course of the year, which had seen veteran opposition figures WP’s Low Thia Khiang and Singapore Democratic Party’s Chee Soon Juan fade away, with the former having exited from the electoral fight and the latter failing again to become a Member of Parliament.

7. Lawrence Wong (5 per cent)

When Lawrence Wong was appointed as the co-chairman of the Multi-Ministry Taskforce for COVID-19, the former national development minister became – together with co-chair Gan Kim Yong – the faces of Singapore’s fight against the coronavirus as the taskforce gave regular updates during the more severe phase of the pandemic.

Wong also had a memorable parliamentary moment while delivering a Ministerial Statement to the House on the COVID-19 situation in March, tearing up as he paid tribute to ordinary Singaporeans doing their part in the fight against the pandemic.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

8. Josephine Teo, Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Suet Fern (all 3 per cent)

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the foreign worker dormitories in April, resulting in a big jump in the daily number of infections, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo took the brunt of criticisms on how her ministry could have overlooked such a potential hotspot for infection. News of the inadequate living conditions in the dormitories also put more pressure on Teo.

As for PM Lee, a year that began with talks of him exiting the political stage and paving the way for fourth-generation leaders, ended with him pledging to stay on until the end of the pandemic.

In between, he saw his People’s Action Party (PAP) lose 10 parliamentary seats to the Workers’ Party in GE2020, while garnering a less-than-stellar 61.24 per cent of the overall vote. Despite his popularity, the history books would record that two GRCs were lost to the opposition on his watch.

Lee also had to deal with matters related to the saga on the Oxley Road estate of his late father, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. He testified in court during his ongoing libel suits against The Online Citizen chief editor Terry Xu and blogger Leong Sze Hian.

His sister-in-law Lee Suet Fern – wife of Lee Hsien Yang and partner at law firm Morgan Lewis – was suspended from practising law for 15 months by a Court of Three Judges in November, after it found her guilty of misconduct in handling the will of Lee Kuan Yew.

The Law Society had charged that Suet Fern failed to advance the late Lee’s interests unaffected by her and/or her husband’s interest, and that she had not advised his father-in-law to seek independent counsel in respect of a significant gift that he planned to give to Hsien Yang.

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