Friday, 21 August 2015

Hazel Poa quits NSP over party's move to contest MacPherson

U-turn will pitch NSP against the Workers' Party, turning contest into three-way fight
By Walter Sim and Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2015

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.

The ball is on WP's court to honour their offer==================================At the all party meeting, the...
Posted by National Solidarity Party on Wednesday, August 19, 2015

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.

NSP's Steve Chia hounded out of politics by online trolls

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

"There's no respect for fellow comrades in the cause": National Solidarity Party's Steve Chia on The Workers' Party, which he wants to take on in MacPherson SMC. Elizabeth Goh
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Press Release: 19th Aug 2015Why MacPherson?The NSP CEC has deliberated on this at length and decided to strike a...
Posted by National Solidarity Party on Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Other parties unlikely to follow NSP's surprise move
Most indicated they will stick to their word and avoid entering into three-cornered fights in coming elections
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2015

The National Solidarity Party's (NSP) surprise U-turn to contest MacPherson SMC is unlikely to spark a knock-on effect among opposition parties to break rank and enter into three-cornered fights.

Most indicated yesterday that they will stick to their word and avoid such battles in the coming polls, a pledge they made at talks led by the NSP earlier this month.

They include the Reform Party (RP), People's Power Party (PPP), Singapore People's Party (SPP), Democratic Progressive Party, Singapore Democratic Alliance, as well as Singaporeans First (SingFirst).

The Singapore Democratic Party did not respond to queries from The Straits Times yesterday.

Some parties, however, said the NSP's decision to pitch itself against the Workers' Party (WP) for the PAP-held seat at the polls was disruptive to "opposition unity".

The NSP's latest move, announced on Wednesday, was followed by the shock resignation of acting secretary-general Hazel Poa just over an hour later.

She was appointed to the post for the second time in June, when lawyer Tan Lam Siong stepped down. Ms Poa, a former civil servant, had first served as secretary-general from June 2011 to September 2013. She was replaced by Mrs Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss in October 2013. But Mrs Chong-Aruldoss resigned to join the SPP in March this year.

Observers, like political analyst Derek da Cunha, said the latest fallout reveals a fragmented opposition, adding that the concept of opposition unity is "non-existent".

"I have never felt that it was a realistic notion, given the vast difference in capabilities and resources across the various parties," he said.

National University of Singapore political scientist Bilveer Singh agrees, adding that the episode shows that "after 50 years, the opposition is more energetic in killing itself than its opponent".

RP chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that if other parties "chip away at decisions already publicly agreed, then it sends a very poor message to the people". Without naming any parties, he said: "To undermine agreements made (with) RP or any other party is to weaken everyone's chances."

Former NSP secretary-general Goh Meng Seng, who now heads the PPP, said NSP made a "tactical mistake" when it announced earlier that it would give up MacPherson. He said it may now take a hit for its sudden reversal to contest in the single-member constituency because "people will have the impression their word cannot be trusted".

The NSP fielded 24 candidates in eight constituencies in the 2011 General Election, which was the most number of opposition candidates then.

The NSP attributing its U-turn to "feedback and pledges of support from many residents" in the SMC also did not go down well with many.

Several political watchers here have also criticised the NSP's decision, saying it impugns the credibility of the party.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said the fact that the party hosted two rounds of horse-trading talks earlier this month was "ironic".

Veteran opposition observer Wong Wee Nam said: "To some voters, the NSP will lose credibility."

However, Prof Tan - a former Nominated MP - said a knock-on effect from the debacle was unlikely, given the backlash faced by the NSP following its latest move.

He said the other opposition parties will likely exercise restraint, adding that there is a need for them to focus on the lead-up to the coming general election, which could be called as soon as next month.

Additional reporting by Lim Yan Liang.

NSP 'dogged by factional splits'
Clash between old guard and newcomers behind the loss of 3 leaders, say ex-members
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2015

A clash of cultures between the old guard and the newcomers. A flawed power structure that limits the role of the secretary-general. And an ineffective dispute-resolution mechanism.

These are the reasons cited by former party members and analysts as to why the opposition National Solidarity Party (NSP) has lost three secretaries-general this year, and four since the 2011 polls.

The latest to depart is acting secretary-general Hazel Poa, who quit the party on Wednesday because she disagreed with the NSP's decision to enter into a three-cornered fight with the Workers' Party (WP) in the single-seat MacPherson ward just a week after saying it would not contest there.

Ms Poa is the third NSP secretary-general to resign from the party this year - after lawyers Tan Lam Siong and Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss quit in July and March respectively. Mr Goh Meng Seng served as secretary-general from February 2010 till June 2011 before giving way to Ms Poa, whose term ended in 2013. She took up the post again after Mr Tan quit.

Former members painted a picture of a party dogged by factional splits between the old guard, who are reluctant to give up battlegrounds they have cultivated, and newer members like Ms Poa, who believed in a united opposition cause.

Said former NSP member Syafarin Sarif: "The thinking is that when somebody gives way to you, you should reciprocate. It's not something they can give up just like that - it's a lot of blood, sweat, tears, money and time they devoted (at Marine Parade and MacPherson)."

The NSP had given up the two constituencies to avoid three-way fights with the WP, even though the latter had offered to give up MacPherson if the NSP did not contest Marine Parade. WP chairman Sylvia Lim said the NSP had rebuffed its offer. But the NSP said it had initiated contact with the WP and did not get a response.

That the WP spurned the second all-parties meeting to decide on battlegrounds could not have gone down well, said an opposition party leader who asked not to be named.

The NSP was started by businessmen in 1987 and old-timers like its former president Yip Yew Weng still form a majority within the Central Executive Committee (CEC).

As the leader of another party observed: "Some of them still have a towkay mentality, concerned with face-saving and 'yi qi' and grand overtures. When I give you this, you reciprocate with that. So when they said they were willing to step away from Marine Parade, they thought (WP leader) Low Thia Khiang would be on the same towkay wavelength - that he would generously give them MacPherson. But when WP didn't, they felt like they had been wronged."

Though it has tried to attract new talent, the departures, first of Mrs Chong-Aruldoss and now Ms Poa, both former Reform Party compatriots who joined NSP months before the 2011 polls, point to a resurgence in influence of more conservative old-timers. Some also cited the party's power structure as a reason for its current state of affairs.

In her resignation note on Wednesday, Ms Poa said "unlike in other political parties", the NSP president is the party's de facto leader, while the secretary-general performs the role of spokesman.

Mr Tan, who may contest the next polls as an independent, said unlike other parties, "power flows from the president" at NSP.

"The fact is that the president is the one with overall control over the party, and the secretary-general basically performs some of the roles of the president by virtue of authority granted by him," he said.

"Certainly (the non-traditional party structure) had its constraints on my role as the secretary-general to decide on matters."

Yet others cite the way the CEC resolves controversial issues as the problem. Lobbying was common, with the NSP president rarely making any executive decisions and only stepping in as a tiebreaker.

A former NSP council member said former non-constituency MP Steve Chia was thus persuaded by party stalwarts to call a vote on whether the party should contest MacPherson, and that they would back him to be fielded there.

Political analyst Derek da Cunha said the change of heart on MacPherson "probably had to do with personalities within the NSP's CEC who wished to contest in the upcoming elections".

He added: "This whole thing puts NSP in a poor light, dramatically putting focus on the view that it is a party driven largely by the interests of various personalities within it."

The latest resignation looks to have affected the party's plans: It is not holding outreach activities this weekend but members will meet today to discuss preparations.

But Mr Chia put up a brave front for the NSP. Yesterday, he posted on Facebook that he had completed a run in the ward. When asked if he will be contesting in MacPherson, he replied: "Yes, we will be committed to the residents of MacPherson."

Additional reporting by Walter Sim

National Solidarity Party's Steve Chia says he will not contest MacPherson SMC, citing online abuse.
Posted by The Straits Times on Saturday, August 22, 2015

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