Party discipline needed for state to run smoothly

For a small country like Singapore, party discipline is necessary to keep members functioning as a cohesive group rather than as a collection of disparate individuals.

It encourages party loyalty among members ("Lift party whip for major policies" by Mr Yeow Hwee Ming; last Friday).

This is all the more vital when it comes to major policies, as it provides assurance that the party will be able to have its legislative plan passed intact. A break in the party ranks could cost the party control of office or political embarrassment.

Relaxing party discipline on major policies would mean extra organisational efforts on the part of the already overworked party leader, and can be counterproductive.

It also means a move in the direction of a congressional system, where members would be free to negotiate among themselves for support on votes. Their voting records would also make them more vulnerable to lobbyists and special interest groups.

Singapore cannot lift the whip on major policies, as doing so would impede the smooth functioning of the administrative state. Because policies require an enormous amount of planning, the whip is necessary for major policies.

However, there are times when the whip is lifted, in matters of conscience, such as casinos, abortion, human organ transplants and nominated MPs.

These are conscience votes unrelated to major policies that concern bread-and-butter issues, or Singapore's survival.

If the party whip is lifted entirely, then how can a nation be united if its leadership is not? Would voters stand behind such indecisive leadership?

The whip creates a united party and internal parliamentary organisation; it organises debates and keeps members informed of the party's progress, and prevents members from falling out with one another.

Francis Cheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'Party discipline needed for state to run smoothly'. Print Edition | Subscribe