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    Sep 09, 2016

    When is good time to make elected presidency changes?

    PEOPLE may not have enough time to understand and support the recommended changes to the elected presidency if the proposals take effect at the next presidential election, said three political watchers.

    Indications are strong that the changes are being timed for the next presidential election, which must be called by August next year.

    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said the changes should be put in place by then and the Government is ready to legislate, when he was asked for his thoughts in a Mediacorp interview last week.

    The Government will release a White Paper outlining its proposals next Thursday in response to the recommendations.

    The changes are likely to be debated and passed by Parliament in November.

    This means a period of just under a year from January, when the idea was first floated, to the changes being conceived and written into law.

    The process included groups and individuals airing their views at public hearings in April and May, and the release of a report this week by the panel reviewing the presidency.

    Observers agree on the rationale for the changes, which include updating the eligibility criteria for candidates and reserving elections for specified races.

    But the question is when to carry them out, they said.

    Their preference is to wait and change the law after the next presidential election.

    It will give more time for the holding of public dialogues that will help people understand, accept or reject the proposals, they added.

    Pushing the changes to after next year's election will give people time "to debate and discuss such an important change in the way our country will be governed", said retired MP Inderjit Singh.

    They pointed out that the elected presidency was seven years in the making.

    Then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew put forth the idea in 1984 and it took effect in 1991, after two White Papers were debated in Parliament from 1988 to 1990.

    Law don Eugene Tan noted that with the current review, "we are barely nine months in the process".

    He added: "Why the haste? We have time - perhaps not seven years but certainly not less than a year, as seems to be the Government's timeline."

    Political scientist Bilveer Singh agreed, saying: "The idea of slow and steady incrementalism is a prudent one."

    Mr Inderjit said "no matter who is elected as president next year", Singapore is in no immediate danger that its national interests, say, its reserves, are being threatened.