In just over a week, the National Solidarity Party (NSP) made several U-turns on its intention to contest in MacPherson SMC; had its acting secretary-general and a council member resign; and watched its reputation crumble.
The NSP’s woes first surfaced after it announced a U-turn last Wednesday of its Aug 10 decision not to engage in a three-way contest with the Workers’ Party (WP) and People’s Action Party (PAP) in MacPherson.
The announcement that it intended to send someone into MacPherson prompted acting secretary-general Hazel Poa to quit the party the same day. Central Executive Council (CEC) member Steve Chia, who indicated that he would be the likely candidate, abruptly announced in a 1am post on his Facebook on Sunday that he would not be standing there – a decision which suggested that the NSP had again decided to leave the WP to take on the PAP.
The party, which remained silent over the turn of events, was then hit on Monday with another resignation: central executive committee member Mohamed Fazli Talip, who was identified as one of 12 potential candidates for the seats it intends to contest. He said on Facebook that he was leaving because the party’s position was damaged by the decisions it made, and he wanted to “protect my own credibility”.
Through it all, the party’s leader – party president Sebastian Teo – has kept his silence.
But on Monday night, he made his first remarks on the party’s week of turmoil, telling The Straits Times about the twist and turns of the MacPherson decision, the personal attacks on him and how he considered stepping down.
Here are edited excerpts of the interview.
Q: The NSP CEC voted last Monday to contest MacPherson. On Wednesday, Hazel Poa decided to quit.
Mr Teo: I don’t blame her. From day one, she thought it was right not to have three-cornered fights. I respect her decision, though some say we shouldn’t give way.
Q: What was the result of the CEC vote?
Mr Teo: It was 70 per cent in support of the motion to contest. Over 10 CEC members turned up. Some in the party felt we should rethink the first decision, as it (that decision) didn’t go to a vote.
Q: What are the factors behind the decision?
Mr Teo: Not to be seen as giving in to the WP is a factor, though a more important reason is that we’ve been on the ground (in MacPherson) for 10 over years. It’s a bit of a pity if we had to give up a constituency that we had cultivated for so long.
Q: Who was the assigned candidate for MacPherson if the NSP were to contest it? Is it you?
Mr Teo: No, Steve (Chia) pushed for it so he would be the one to go. He was the one that initiated the motion and tried to convince some.
Q: Why did Steve Chia change his mind? Did the CEC asked him to do so?
Mr Teo: No, he did it on his own.
Q: Now that he has come out to say he is pulling out of MacPherson, is the NSP still contesting it?
Mr Teo: It’s up to the party, the motion still stands. We have not decided not to contest MacPherson. The decision is still there.
Q: How do you think these developments have affected the party’s reputation?
Mr Teo: If I say no, you may think I’m too naive. If I say yes, I think it’s yet to be proven. So I’d rather not comment. But somehow or rather, it has created some concerns.
Q: As president, do you think you could or should have done things better?
Mr Teo: The issue is that we’re running (the party) the democratic way, based on collective decision. The power is not centralised in the party head. There's a big difference. As NSP president, I don’t have absolute power. For major things, we go through a process if we really cannot get consensus. That’s the solution. It may not be a perfect solution but there's no other way.
Q: So is it unfair to blame it on you?
Mr Teo: The earlier Straits Times report said the NSP president only steps in to be a tie-breaker. It is true to a certain extent. I will come in and weigh which side has more logic and makes more sense.
Q: Do you think you should have asserted yourself more as president to chart the direction of the party?
Mr Teo: To a certain extent, it’s the system. If people think the system has to be revamped, so be it.
Q: Do you think there's a need for revamp?
Mr Teo: Yes, so that the decision-making process can be faster and the head of the party can be more decisive. At the present moment, if people want to put all the blame on me, I think it’s not too fair.
Q: Have you received any negative comments from members and supporters?
Mr Teo: No. In fact, most members still want me and so there’s no way I can just leave, even if I have the intention to resign.
Q: Why not?
Mr Teo: Logically, at this moment, as the party head, I cannot abandon the party. It’s my responsibility. At the present moment, I still have very strong support from the party internally, so that's why I think the responsibility is still there.
Q: How long did you take to decide to stay on?
Mr Teo: A few days.
Q: Did you tell yourself you should move on and let others do the job?
Mr Teo: Yes I did try, not once but many times to see if anyone can take over my role, not just in the last few days but in the past. It’s not the first time such thoughts crossed my mind. It’s not because I'm not being supported. I’ve managed the party from 2001. From 2006, we pulled out of Singapore Democratic Alliance. It’s been nine years. I don't know if I should say I’ve made NSP better known and helped it progress. It’s been quite some time.
Q: How will the developments affect NSP’s performance at the coming polls?
Mr Teo: I can’t foresee the outcome. But generally, I can tell you that NSP will still go for the election as planned. We will make it known to the public before Nomination Day.
Q: How many seats will the party contest?
Mr Teo: So far, it is still two GRCs and two SMCs (Sembawang GRC, Tampines GRC, Pioneer SMC and MacPherson SMC), if the motion is not moved.
Q: What will you do to repair NSP's image?
Mr Teo: We will see if the public understands the situation and still give us their support. It’s hard for us to come out with a set of improvements to the system within a short period.
Q: NSP contested 24 seats in 2011, which was the biggest opposition slate at the election and a peak for you and the party. How do you feel about its preparations this time?
Mr Teo: Before these happened, we were in a very good shape. Our fighting spirit and energy was on full charge. It really looked like we could be winning. But now, I feel sayang (It’s a pity in Malay). But things happen and you just have to do your best and put in the effort you can.
Q: A few days ago, a website surfaced with details of your previous convictions and bankruptcy. How did it affect you?
Mr Teo: Of course, the motive, the objective (of the website) is obvious, it wants me to quit the team, whichever constituency that I intend to go.
Q: Does it make you more determined to prove yourself this time?
Mr Teo: I think if I want to fight on, I’ll have to be strong.