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Explainer: What does a govt whip do, when has it been lifted and which countries have it?

SINGAPORE — The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) announced on Thursday (June 6) that Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Transport as well as Communications and Information, has been appointed its new party whip with immediate effect.

Explainer: What does a govt whip do, when has it been lifted and which countries have it?
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SINGAPORE — The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) announced on Thursday (June 6) that Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Transport as well as Communications and Information, has been appointed its new party whip with immediate effect.

He takes over the position from Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing. Supporting Dr Puthucheary will be two deputy party whips — Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Minister of State for Manpower and National Development.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, Dr Puthucheary, 46, said: (I’m) honoured to take on this role. I’ll do my best to fulfil my duties (and) am grateful for the support from Sim Ann and Zaqy Mohamad.”

The term “party whip” crops up from time to time in news articles on parliament sittings, especially when laws are being passed. But what exactly does a whip do? When has the whip been lifted in Singapore’s Parliament? And which other countries have it?


A statement on Singapore’s Parliament website said that the party whip is often regarded as the disciplinarian of a political party. The whip “ensures that there are sufficient party members in the chamber to support the party's position and that MPs vote according to the party's line”.

“Occasionally, he may ‘lift the whip’ and allow Members of Parliament (MPs) to vote according to their conscience.”

A whip also ensures good communication within the party and “contributes to the smooth running of the party's parliamentary machinery”, the statement said.

The whip will draw up a list of MPs who will be speaking at a parliamentary session and estimates the time required so that it can be completed within schedule.

Based on news reports, former PAP party whips have included experienced Cabinet ministers.

Before Mr Chan assumed the role, current Health Minister Gan Kim Yong was the party whip from 2011 to 2015, while former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say helmed the position from 2007 to 2011.

Before Mr Lim, former Manpower Minister Lee Boon Yang was the whip for close to two decades from 1988 to 2007. He left politics in 2009.


Having adopted the United Kingdom’s Westminster parliamentary model, party whips also exist in other Commonwealth countries such as Australia, India and Malaysia. They have a similar role: To ensure their MPs toe the party line.

United Kingdom: The UK has what it calls a “three-line whip” system, which normally applies to major events such as when it wants to pass significant laws. A one-line whip means an MP does not have to turn up to vote, while a three-line whip indicates the importance of attending and voting along party lines.

The UK parliament website states that defying a three-line whip is very serious and has occasionally resulted in the MP being expelled from the party but retaining his or her seat. The individual must then “sit as an independent” until his position is restored.

India: The role of whip in India is quite different. The individual cannot take part in debates and discussions inside the House and instead, plays the role of an adviser to party leaders and a counsellor to MPs.

The Indian parliament also has a three-line whip system. But this can be violated if a third of the lawmakers in a party decide to vote against the party line. Defying the whip also has its consequences: An MP faces expulsion under the country’s Anti Defection Act.

Malaysia: In Malaysia, its deputy prime minister traditionally is the whip. Just like the whips in other countries, Malaysia’s party whip ensures that parliamentary proceedings run smoothly, such as by drawing up the list of speakers.


The first time the whip was lifted in Singapore could be traced back to 1969. Since then, however, there have only been a handful of instances when the whip was lifted.

A party whip can be lifted when a vote is called on a motion or legislation. But there are also instances when it can be lifted to allow for a spirited and robust debate on the issue. Case in point: The debate over 38 Oxley Road in 2017 (see below).

And it is not only the party whip who can lift the whip. Other leaders in the party can do so as well. When it comes to voting, lifting the whip allows the MPs to vote freely instead of toeing the party line.

But party leaders may also choose not to lift the whip. One instance: Then-PAP MP Tan Soo Khoon’s call to lift the whip to vote on the proposed plan to build the two integrated resorts, which was debated in 2005. This was rejected.

Here are five occasions when the whip was lifted:

1. 38 Oxley Road

The most recent instance when the whip was lifted was during the parliamentary debate in July 2017. At the time, Parliament was debating the public dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his two younger siblings over former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s 38 Oxley Road bungalow.

No vote was taken on the issue and PM Lee himself decided to lift the whip. He noted then that all MPs across both aisles should question him and his ministers “vigorously and without restraint” to strengthen confidence in the country’s system of government.

2. Maintenance of Parents (Amendment) Bill

In November 2010, the whip was lifted when Parliament voted on the changes to the Maintenance of Parents Act, which enables parents to sue their children for financial support. Among the changes were making it mandatory for parents and children locked in disputes to attend mediation sessions.

3. Nominated MP Scheme

It was an issue that has seen spirited debates right from when it was introduced in Parliament in 1989. And it has caused the whip to be lifted the most number of times — four in total.

Initially, then-Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong declined to lift the whip when the scheme was first debated. But he did so in 1992. Later, the whips were lifted in 1997 and in 2002, which saw former PAP MP Tan Cheng Bock voting against party line on both occasions. In 2006, the whip was lifted again, with opposition MPs Low Thia Khiang, Chiam See Tong and Sylvia Lim voting against the scheme.

4. Human Organ Transplant Amendment Bill

In 2004, then-Senior Minister of State for Health Balaji Sadasivan asked for the whip to be lifted when Parliament debated on the Human Organ Transplant Act.

Previously, the law — introduced in 1987 — allowed only the kidneys to be taken from people who died from accidents.

Proposed changes would expand the law, enabling organs such as the liver and heart to be taken from those who died, regardless of whether or not the death was caused by an accident.

Parliament voted to pass the law with no dissension.

In 2009, the party whip was lifted again when the law was amended to allow payments to be made to living organ donors. Then-PAP MP Halimah Yacob and MP Denise Phua, as well as opposition MPs Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim, abstained during voting while there was one vote of dissent — cast by PAP MP Christopher De Souza. The law was passed.

5. Abortion Bill

It has been reported that the whip was first lifted in 1969, when Parliament voted to legalise abortion and passed the Abortion Bill. After a three-day heated debate in April that year, the Bill was shelved to gather public feedback and was presented again to the House later in December.

When it was put to a vote, 10 MPs voted against it, while 32 voted for the law. One MP abstained while 15 MPs — including then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew — was absent for the vote.

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Politics Parliament PAP Chan Chun Sing Janil Puthucheary party whip

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