The Limits to Toeing the Party Line

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This post by Galvin Wong was first published here.

The recent debacle between the DAP and its vice-chairman Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim really sparked my interest and got me thinking. My thoughts however centred not on his arguments but how the DAP reacted to the public breach of his party’s stand, of his failure to toe the party line. A strong reaction ensued.

A few days ago, it was reported that he was being investigated by the DAP’s disciplinary body. Just yesterday, it was reported that he’d be dropped as a senator when his term came to an end.

The concept of toeing the party line is not new or uncommon. It’s used in both Australia and Britain and in Malaysia itself; it’s a common practice. It refers to publicly agreeing and supporting a party’s decision whatever it may be. There are, of course, certain advantages to this practice. Namely, it presents a united front via a single-minded focus on a certain issue. However, there are severe disadvantages as well.

Such a political culture requires strict party discipline. Strict discipline allows the party leader more freedom to choose whose views he intends to accept, as no one would risk prematurely ending his or her political career by publicly disagreeing with his decision, and he would select an elite few who’d have his ear. The selection of a specific view that the party will take leads to other views within the party being disregarded. However, if only the views from certain power players in the party are favoured, others may feel marginalised. This might lead to discontent and quite possibly internal rifts and arguments that’ll destabilise a party.

One other tremendous disadvantage to this system is the fact that the MPs are required to vote according to their party’s stand in Parliament. Malaysia’s a representative democracy. And the core purpose of the MPs in this system is to represent the rakyat who’ve elected them. However, partisan politics have very much taken over. As such, an MP’s role in Parliament has shifted from voting based on their constituents’ interest, to voting based on their party’s interest.

Such an occurrence has very much reduced the directness and effectiveness of the input citizens have in policy-making, making Malaysia much less of a democratic country. Remember, a democracy is about the rule of the majority. And MPs toeing the party line is more along the lines of ruling by the minority, due to the fact that it’s mainly the party decision-makers that have more input into the country’s policies.

How then do we correct this situation? The answer’s simple. We must deviate back to the core purpose of a representative democracy — i.e, to represent. Parties must begin to realise that the people’s interests are best represented when decisions about Bills in Parliament aren’t made by those in the party’s core leadership, but by the people themselves. MPs need to start going to the ground once again to speak and receive feedback from constituents, and they need to begin voting based on the interests of the community they represent!

Not merely toeing the party line would also ensure that MPs representing minority groups in Sabah and Sarawak get to have their fair say in policy-making. Bills will have to be formed with the minority groups’ interests in mind before being passed, because only then would these Bills receive the ‘yes’ vote from the MPs in Sabah and Sarawak.

Also, Bills that put into place policies that a party has put forth in its manifesto, no longer need to be mired in protracted debate and political point-scoring. The rakyat would already have agreed to such policies when they elect the government. This will save time (which is limited) during parliamentary sessions  for Bills that are important and crucial, thus ensuring that the recent situation (where Parliament had to debate a high number of Bills on its last day) doesn’t happen as it led, unnecessarily, to accusations by the Opposition of certain Bills being forced through without sufficient scrutiny.

I’m not suggesting that the culture of toeing the party line must be completely abolished. To a large extent, this political culture is needed to ensure that a party doesn’t fall apart because of undisciplined individuals. What I am suggesting is that the principle of how an MP must vote in Parliament based on a party’s stand must be reverted. MPs are willing to fight tooth and nail in the name of the rakyat. But is it truly their constituents they’re representing, or their parties?

(Featured image accompanying article on the main page courtesy of Ian Britton, source:

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Posts by Galvin Wong

Galvin is an 18 year old who believes that voting is a right with responsibility attached to it. He had wanted a lot to express his views but had no idea how to until he stumbled upon this website called He enjoys writing in his free time and has a manic obsession with football tactics.

Posted on 12 May 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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One Response to The Limits to Toeing the Party Line

  1. samo1

    In the first instance, why join the political party – eg Labour Party and not the Conservative Party? In this case better to be alone ranger. In principle, one may agree to most of the ideologies and there may be some. For eg, there may be some oppose to joining USA to engage in Iraq or Afghan. Just because of one policy, one quit. TA has failed malaysians because of one minor incidence, he resign. Has he managed to make the ruling party transparent and accountable? What has he achieve during his tenure as a Senator for Penang? In Australia, Malcom Turnburn may disagree with his party head on carbon emission and other matters. Does he quit or he looks for the tree in the forest?