Friday, August 19, 2011

A "light touch" Workers' Party Party Whip?

It was reported in today's Straits Times ("Low Thia Khiang appointed party Whip", 19 August 2011) that the Workers' Party (WP) will appointing its party Secretary-General Mr. Low Thia Khiang as its Party Whip while its party Chairwoman Ms. Sylvia Lim will be appointed as deputy Party Whip. This, according to Ms. Lim, was done because the WP recognised that there is a greater need for party discipline and coordination in Parliament now that it will have six elected Members of Parliament (MPs) and two Non-Constituency MPs. Essentially, with a Party Whip in place, the WP MPs will have to "speak and vote in line with the party position". Of course, Mr. Low "is free to lift the Whip on occasion and let the MPs vote according to their conscience" although, according to Ms. Lim, the WP "has not discussed the range of policies or issues for which the Whip may be lifted".

After reading the report above, I cannot help but have some mixed thoughts.

On one hand, I can understand that the WP perhaps decided that it needs to make full use of its increased numbers in Parliament and the most effective and efficient way of doing so is to have a Party Whip in place.

On the other hand, being familiar with the criticism that have been made against the People's Action Party (PAP) having a Party Whip, I am somewhat concerned that similar criticism against the WP may also emerge. Basically, several people have made the criticism that by having a Party Whip, the PAP has curtailed its MPs' freedom to speak and vote in Parliament - that even though PAP MPs may perhaps sometimes may make critical speeches in Parliament about public policies or disagree vehemently with a particular legislative bill put forth by the Cabinet, they are "forced" to vote in support of those polices or bill because of the Party Whip.

Of course, the PAP has, on several occasions, said that it does lift the Party Whip to allow its MPs to speak and vote freely. I however can only remember one recent occasion when this was done and that was during the parliamentary debates on whether Integrated Resorts should be established in Singapore (I am not sure if they lifted the Whip for the debates on whether to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code and whether to raise ministerial salaries. Was it?).

Hence, I understandably am somewhat concerned that a similar situation may occur for the WP after it has a Party Whip. To put it plainly, I am somewhat concerned that with its own Party Whip in place, WP MPs may perhaps, being "forced" to toe the party line, have to speak (or not speak) or vote against their own will.

It is thus my hope that the WP will have a "light touch" Party Whip - that WP MPs may be allowed certain latitude when speaking and voting in Parliament, instead of having to abide strictly by the official WP position or risk severe penalty/being "whipped". Of course, this hope of mine extends to the PAP - I also hope that the PAP will have a "light touch" Party Whip. After all, it is perhaps hard to believe an MP can fully represent his or her constituents' interests when his or her right to speak and vote freely in Parliament are curtailed by having to abide strictly by their party's official position.


Luke Osman said...

The whip is an important means to maintain cohesiveness in a political party within the legislative process. There are times when the whip is lifted in matters of conscience. Political parties decide on the scope of matters of conscience and this normally will determine the lightness of the whip. I am glad that WP are mature enough to see the importance of maintaining party discipline.

LCC said...

Luke Osman,

I can understand why the WP decided that party discipline is important and that to maintain this party discipline, they need a party whip. I am not against party discipline in itself.

I am however somewhat concerned that this pursuit of party discipline may come at the expense of the WP MPs being fully able to represent the interests of their constituents. It is thus my hope that such a situation does not emerge.

Greenteacup said...

Me think. It's a double edged.
Oppositions will always call out the flaws and mistakes of the government, until they are government, then someone will come to call out their flaws.. and that's the CIRCLE OF lifeeee....

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