In a surprise move, the National Solidarity Party's (NSP) acting secretary-general Hazel Poa has quit the party in protest over its decision to contest single-seat MacPherson.
The U-turn by the NSP will pitch it against another opposition party, the Workers' Party (WP), turning the contest in the Single Member Constituency (SMC) into a three-way fight.
Ms Poa said in a statement yesterday that the NSP's Central Executive Committee (CEC) voted on Monday in favour of council member Steve Chia's proposal for it to contest the SMC.
"It was a decision I strongly disagreed with, and hence not one I can implement. As the direction that the party has decided to pursue deviates greatly from my own, I see no choice other than to resign from the NSP," said Ms Poa, adding that she would not be contesting the upcoming General Election.
A former Administrative Service officer, Ms Poa was the NSP's secretary-general from 2011 to 2013 and took the post again in June after her predecessor quit over "incompatibility issues" with the party.
The NSP had said on Aug 10, in a statement signed by Ms Poa, that it would not contest MacPherson and Marine Parade GRC to avoid three-way fights with the WP.
The move came after an offer by the WP that it would give up MacPherson if the NSP did not contest Marine Parade. But on Aug 7, WP chairman Sylvia Lim said the NSP had rebuffed its offer. The NSP, however, said it had initiated contact with the WP about the proposal but did not get a response.
Yesterday, the NSP's statement on its change of heart was signed by all its CEC members. It said the change was because "considerable outreach has been done prior to the 2011 General Elections" in MacPherson.
"This decision made by the CEC is final, and reflects our view that maintaining Opposition unity requires mutual respect and a spirit of compromise on the part of all parties," it added.
Electoral boundary changes announced last month saw MacPherson carved out as a single-seat ward from Marine Parade GRC, where the NSP gained 43.36 per cent of the votes against the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).
Marine Parade GRC has absorbed Joo Chiat SMC, which the WP contested during the 2011 General Election.
The WP has declared that it will contest Marine Parade on that basis, and also because "we don't want to disappoint voters in Joo Chiat (and) we want to offer them a choice again in this election".
This latest development sparked heated discussions online, with some netizens wondering if opposition unity may be threatened even before the next polls, expected to be held as soon as next month.
The NSP's announcement drew over 300 comments last night, most lambasting it for initiating a three-cornered fight.
Mr Chia told The Straits Times it was his "motion to pursue WP for the return of MacPherson and, if necessary, go all out for the three-cornered fight if WP refuses to back down". The former Non-Constituency MP said he could not comment yet if he would be fielded in MacPherson.
Hougang MP Png Eng Huat told reporters the WP was surprised by the NSP's move and that the party would have to consider whether to engage it in further talks. He added that there would be no change to the WP's plans to contest MacPherson and its candidate would be known on Nomination Day.
Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling, who will be fielded by the PAP in MacPherson, said she and her team are "prepared for all scenarios" when asked about a potential three-way fight in her ward.
"My team and I have been here for the last four-plus years because we have a mission to serve the residents. We will continue to do our best," she added.
•Additional reporting by Chong Zi Liang and Rachel Au-Yong