Power broker Lau sees off village challenge
Tanna Chong and Danny Mok
An unprecedented bid to unseat New Territories supremo Lau Wong-fat in the latest village representative election failed yesterday with the powerful rural leader beating his challengers by a large margin.
Lau secured his seat with 257 votes while his ally Lau Wai-ping received 247 votes. Their challengers, Lau Kwok-ming and Kent Lau Tung-hoi, got only 55 and 36 votes respectively.
A total of 333, out of more than 500 eligible voters in Lung Kwu Tan village, Tuen Mun, cast their ballots. Each elector had two votes.
However, yesterday's election still marked a turning point in rural politics, with the decades-long dominance of Lau being challenged on his home turf, which has been the political foundation of the Heung Yee Kuk chief and executive councillor. He had never been challenged there during his 51 years of service as the village representative.
Analysts had said any defeat for Lau could cause a domino effect on his power base on the Tuen Mun Rural Committee and Tuen Mun District Council.
Meanwhile, Lau faces a challenge from another direction with some members of Tuen Mun Rural Committee seeking amendments to rules that would ban justices of the peace from becoming committee members.
Lau and his son, Kenneth Lau Ip-keung, are the only two JPs remaining on the committee. Advocates for the amendments include the new Leung Tin Tsuen village head and Law Society vice-chairman, Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, who denied he was challenging Lau.
'Uncle Fat's [Lau Wong-fat] work in Exco and Legco has taken so much of his time and energy,' he said. 'It is unhealthy for him to take on the burden of so many positions.'
Despite the challenges, the New Territories power broker looked relaxed yesterday.
'I am happy no matter if I am winning or losing,' the 74-year-old Kuk chief said. 'I believe the villagers know how to choose the right one.'
He said he always did 'the appropriate thing at the appropriate time'.
Lau's official posts and therefore his political base are intertwined. Only a village representative can contest the chairman's seat of his rural committee. If he loses his seat on the rural committee, his seat on the district council will be forfeited.
The two challengers, merchants Kent Lau, 41, and Lau Kwok-ming, 34, did not offer a well-defined political platform.
Both said they wanted to learn from the Kuk chief. But it was the fact of their challenge on the chief's home turf that was significant.
Lau Wong-fat was embroiled in a scandal in September over his incomplete declaration of interests in Exco and Legco. He failed three times to include information on his land and property portfolio. The latest files showed he had more than 600 plots of land in the New Territories.
Yesterday marked the last of the four weekend village elections. Ballots were held for indigenous inhabitant representative seats in 164 villages and for resident representative seats in 204 villages.
In all, 1,753 candidates were nominated for the 1,484 indigenous inhabitant representative and resident representative seats in 709 villages.
This is 7.6 per cent more than the 1,629 of four years ago and is also higher than the 1,640 in 2003, when a dual village head system was introduced as a major reform to the traditional structure.