ICAC sets talks for villagers' poll worries
Independent Commission Against Corruption representatives will speak to Tsoi Yuen villagers as early as Friday about their election rights after several Heung Yee Kuk members allegedly said that it would be illegal for residents to run in the forthcoming district council polls.
Villagers said they were told in August that they had no right to run in the November elections because they were living in temporary houses.
Residents refused to say which members of the kuk - the group representing indigenous peoples' interests in the New Territories - gave this information.
An Electoral Affairs Commission spokesman said any registered voter aged 21 or above who had lived in Hong Kong for three years before the nomination could stand for election.
Tsoi Yuen residents resettled near a village belonging to the Pat Heung South constituency after the government bought and cleared out land in Shek Kong to build a railway depot.
Pressure from kuk members has already forced Tsoi Yuen villagers to bow out of the running, including Ko Chun-heung and Fung Yu-chuck, who were planning to contest the Pat Heung north and south constituencies under the banner of the Land Justice Alliance, a loose coalition of 12 civic groups campaigning against excessive development.
The alliance, formed in June, originally planned to field five candidates in the district council elections.
Activist Chu Hoi-dick said villagers feared repercussions if they joined the elections, but said he would still run in Ko's place to 'defy intimidation'.
'Villagers worry that if we insist on running, we may have problems when we start building houses,' Fung said. 'The indigenous people may not allow us to use the only access road. They may refuse to let the freshwater pipe pass through their land or let electricity poles be erected.' Still, the 50-year-old said running in the election was 'the best answer to ... bullying', and she had rethought her decision not to run.
'I understand the villagers' worries. But it is important [for us to] let them know that they can't bully us,' she said. 'After going through all the turmoil of having our village destroyed and then building a new one, our village is very strong indeed, but [we] still haven't realised this. We underestimate how far we can go.'The electoral commission said any act that would influence a person's candidacy by bribery, force, duress or deception was prohibited.
Kuk chairman and rural strongman Lau Wong-fat said he had no plan to investigate the allegation that members were spreading false information to villagers. 'This sort of thing also happens in the metro area. I am not going to comment on it,' he said. 'What is the point of investigation? People are free to talk.'
The relationship between the villagers and the kuk has been strained for some time, especially since the Tsoi Yuen residents were forced to leave Shek Kong to make way for a depot for the HK$66.9 billion high-speed rail link connecting Hong Kong to the mainland.
Villagers had to purchase new land in the New Territories, at prices higher than the market rate. They waived their right to elect a village head in the middle of last year in exchange for community leaders' permission to buy this land.
Of the HK$18 million the villagers paid for the property, nearly HK$8 million turned out to be commission for middlemen who were influential figures in Pat Heung's indigenous community.
The villagers also encountered difficulties in accessing the main road, being asked to pay a HK$5 million fee to be allowed to use it. The row was settled early this year after a mysterious benefactor bought the access right and donated it to the kuk.
Villagers wanted to build an eco-friendly village where they could practise organic farming, but soaring construction costs forced them to put building permanent homes on hold.