Dr Janil Puthucheary takes over as PAP whip from Chan Chun Sing, further establishing 4th generation leadership

Senior Minister of State for Transport as well as Communications and Information Dr Janil Puthucheary has been appointed the new People’s Action Party (PAP) whip, taking over from Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing who has held the position since September 2015. He started his new role on 6 June. This comes over two years after he was appointed Chairman of PAP’s youth wing. Back then he also took over from Mr Chan.

The move to appoint Dr Puthucheary as party whip, according to experts quoted by Straits Times and TODAY Online, consolidates the party’s fourth-generation leadership in preparation for the next General Election which is due by 2021.

Dr Puthucheary – who is MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC – will have two deputies. Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower as well as MP for Chua Chu Chang GRC will ascend as deputy, taking over from Mr Sam Tan, Minister of state for Foreign Affairs and Social & Family Development.

The other deputy will be Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Culture, Community & Youth as well as MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

The party whip is tasked with ensuring that the party’s MPs vote according to the party line, meaning they will have to work closely with MPs within the party to ensure good communication within the ranks. On occasion, the whip may ‘lift the whip’ to allow party members to vote according to their conscience, even if it may be against the party position.

Political observer and former NMP Zulkifli Baharudin told Straits Times that the whip plays an important role of projecting the party’s ideologies and philosophies to both members of the party and the public, particularly when it comes to controversial motions or legislation raised in parliament. The whip is kind of like the party disciplinarian.

“At the end of the day, it’s not just about enforcing the whip or not. The party position has to be cohesive and members have to be persuaded of the party’s ideologies,” Mr Zulkifli said.

He added that Dr Puthucheary is well-suited for the role as he is able to convey PAP ideologies without “hard-sell”.

Speaking to Today Online MP for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng described Dr Puthucheary as a “good choice”, adding that he is well-respected among the PAP MP and is “very grounded and approachable”.

Denise Phua, MP for Jalan Besar GRC, also told Today that having worked with Dr Puthucheary when he was Senior Minister of State for Education while she chaired the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, she thinks he is “open, intelligent, pleasant and sensible”.

She added, “I believe Janil will be up to the task and he is a great addition to the fourth-generation political leadership.”

Straits Times quoted political scientist Prof Bilveer Singh as saying that these new appointments show that PAP is consolidating its new generation of leaders.

The National University of Singapore professor said, “Beyond the function, the more important thing is the symbolism of who is put where and why. It’s about positioning them in the public eye and giving them the respect in the party – in preparation for the coming election.”

He also noted that moving Mr Zaqy from the backbench to a Minister of State last year could signal a possible future for him as Senior Minister of State. He explained that next to Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, and Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, Mr Zaqy is a key player in PAP’s positioning of Malay political power.

Singaporean political analyst at the Education University of Hong Kong Assistant Professor Woo Jun Jie highlighted that appointing Dr Puthucheary as the party whip indicates leadership renewal, he said to Today Online.

It shows that the party wants to pass on important party positions to younger politicians. Asst. Prof Woo elaborated, “Just like the appointment of Mr Heng Swee Keat as the sole Deputy Prime Minister, this recent appointment of Dr Puthucheary appears to be an indication that the PAP may no longer be abiding by the old playbook. Rather, it (the PAP) is responding to new political realities and needs.”

Echoing that, Associate Professor Eugene Tan, a political analyst from the Singapore Management University said that the PAP is passing the baton of running Parliamentary affairs to their next generation of leaders.

With the next GE due in 2021, that gives the new party whip about a year to grow in his role, said Assoc. Prof Tan.