Former SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell has refused to rule himself out of another leadership contest with Margaret Ritchie.
The prospect of a three-way race in the party increased as the MP who Ms Ritchie defeated to take the post 18 months ago cautioned against any focus on personalities.
The South Belfast MP broke his silence after it emerged the man who replaced him as deputy, Patsy McGlone, is poised to launch his own leadership challenge against Ms Ritchie within weeks.
"A substantial number of people, almost 50%, wanted me to be leader two years ago. Many are claiming I would do a better job," Mr McDonnell said.
"My interest is in seeing the SDLP performing better. For me it's not a question of personalities. It's a question of getting a strategy and a programme that makes a difference in people's lives."
Mr McDonnell, who was defeated by Ms Ritchie in February 2010 by 35 votes, described reports of the McGlone challenge yesterday as "premature".
Asked whether Ms Ritchie was the leader to achieve the strategy he wants, he said: "Some people feel yes, some people feel it could be done better.
"There is a wide variety of opinion out there. I am a senior party member and I am listening. I am making no decisions at all. It pays to listen.
"People are entitled to their views, to express themselves, and the SDLP creates that opportunity (at the annual conference) in November. There will be ample time and space."
His comments came as figures released by the Electoral Commission showed the party is running an operational loss of around £66,000. The party raised £346,946 last year and spent £413,238, a deficit of £66,292.
Donations to the party have also fallen dramatically, down by more than half, to a total of £36,922 in 2010 from £83,672 the previous year. Ms Ritchie, however, responded to reports of a potential challenge by insisting she will fight on to retain her position.
"I will be running for leadership of the SDLP at the annual conference," she said.
"Anyone in the Parliamentary Assembly group is free to put their name forward if they get the nominations.
"But at the end of the day, I am the leader."
The 52-year-old, who is the first female to head the party after the long-serving triumvirate of Gerry Fitt, John Hume and Mark Durkan, appeared to consolidate her early success in the Westminster election last year.
She retained the South Down seat, held for more than 20 years by her predecessor Eddie McGrady, as well as the two other seats, Mr McDonnell's and Mr Durkan's in Foyle. But her personal style and several lacklustre media performances have come in for criticism, culminating in the party losing two Assembly seats in the May election.
Tensions between the rural and urban groups within the party were exacerbated when she appeared to pass over Mr McGlone to appoint Alex Attwood as an Executive minister for a second time, and Mr McGlone then seemed to have refused a Stormont committee chairmanship.