Allowing diversity of views while preserving Party discipline: lessons to learn from ex-NCMP Daniel Goh vs WP


Former Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Daniel Goh revealed on Facebook on Sep 3 that Workers’ Party (WP) leadership has convened a disciplinary committee on his Facebook posts on the Raeesah Khan saga and he was called up for an interview.

He, however, declined to be interviewed, saying that he asked those questions as a concerned citizen and as a member who believes that public accountability and integrity are non-negotiable values demanded of Singapore’s political leaders.

This latest development to the Raeesah Khan saga, while unfortunate, serves as a cautionary tale to any organisation that hopes to remain open to diverse viewpoints in a way that doesn’t affect organisational integrity or discipline.

Contestation of ideas and the diversity of views

There is a common assumption that members of political parties have largely the same views on issues, straddled with organisational groupthink.

However, for our Party, this is far from the truth.

At an appreciation dinner to honour retired PAP MPs in July this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: “Some think that since PAP MPs all wear white and white, they are also monochrome in their ideas and perspectives. But this view is quite mistaken.”

He added that depending on personal backgrounds and interests, different MPs have championed different issues.

And how the Parliamentarians put forth their suggestions in the House speaks for itself: some champion lower-wage workers, some fight for the rights of mothers, while some are big on mental health issues. This allows the Party to stay a big tent and not stick to a single ideology.

In fact, having that diversity of views is critical for any organisation as it avoids groupthink and allows the organisation to be more comprehensive – especially critical when it comes to advancing public interest.

Discipline, Diversity, Divergence

The PAP’s mission is to build a fair and just society where the benefits of progress are spread widely to all.

To succeed in our mission, we require a constant flow of new ideas and a diversity of viewpoints to keep ourselves progressive, effective and responsive.  But we cannot diverge from or on our core values.  As an political movement, we must understand the fine difference between diversity of views and divergence of the core, and seek to avoid the latter.  This is where Party discipline can help check us. 

Back in the time of our Founding Fathers, ideas and issues were fiercely debated before key decisions were made. And once a decision was made, even when far from unanimous, everyone closes ranks and moves on. Party discipline like this was possible because our Founding Leaders trusted each other and knew that their primary concerns were the best interest of Singapore and Singaporeans.

This was true for us then, it is true for us now.

The right values first

Before an organisation can expect to uphold discipline, it must be rooted in the right values.  Its objectives must be accepted by its members as noble and not self-serving or expedient.

For our Party, it is always about continuing to do what we believe is the right thing for Singapore and Singaporeans, no matter the political cost – a point that Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has been reiterating.

Only by having the right values in the first place will we have the moral authority to ask Party members to respect and observe party discipline; we cannot expect to silence Party members if our actions or intentions are self-serving or questionable to begin with, even in the slightest.

Instead, we should serve Singapore responsibly, much alike what Assoc Prof Goh said about WP.

Indeed, for this is how a democracy should conduct its politics.  Singapore will be better for it.