Lau Wong-fat elected as council chief
Veteran New Territories powerbroker Lau Wong-fat won yet another rural power struggle, when he was elected as chairman of Tuen Mun district council yesterday amid noisy protests outside the meeting.
It was a dramatic reversal, as Lau was forced to step down as chairman of the rural committee in Tuen Mun, where he was born, 10 months ago. Yesterday's clear victory - 23 votes to seven - came against challenger To Sheck-yuen, who is backed by the New Territories' rising political star Junius Ho Kwan-yiu.
Law Society chairman Ho described Lau's victory as undemocratic and shameless, and threatened to seek a judicial review.
But Lau, the chairman of rural affairs body the Heung Yee Kuk, shrugged off the challenges, saying 'even sainthood can be opposed by someone [these days]'. Political analysts said the opposition to Lau's return was not likely to pose any immediate threat to the 74-year-old, although his age would force a transition of power at some point.
Lau said he was pleased to return to the district council, adding he would remember those who had supported him. He was forced to step down as chairman of the rural committee in Tuen Mun, after it limited leaders to two terms.
Ho was elected unopposed as chairman of the committee after Lau was barred from seeking re-election to the post he held for 41 years.
The change also meant Lau automatically lost his seat on Tuen Mun District Council, of which he was chairman and an ex-officio member. But the government reinstated him as an appointed member last month.
'When we are talking about democratic advancement, such an arrangement is shameless,' Ho said yesterday as some 100 protesters rallied outside the Tuen Mun Government Offices, where the council meeting took place. They were protesting against Lau's reinstatement.
'He [Lau] has been chairman for a number of decades. Why should we still put someone in his 70s on the council and make him the chairman?' Ho asked.
The Democratic Party's Lam Chung-hoi, who seconded challenger To, said he did so because competition was vital in a democratic process, and challengers must step forward to create competition.
When asked whether he would quit politics because of calls for him to step down, Lau said: 'Some have asked me to stay.'
Political analysts said yesterday's protest did not mean Lau's clout would wane quickly.
Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University, said: 'Lau has long been a broker between rural leaders and the government. I don't see Ho as a serious challenger.'
Another political pundit, Ivan Choy Chi-keung, said: 'So far, he is irreplaceable. None of the so-called potential successors are strong enough to take over.' Lau might see the protests as giving him the political capital to act tough against the government on rural matters, Choy said. The protesters accused him of neglecting rural interests in his capacity as rural representative on the Executive Council.
However, Chung Kim-wah, an assistant professor of applied social sciences at Polytechnic University, said Lau's age meant it was only a matter of time before a power transition took place in the New Territories.
He also believed Lau had paid a heavy political price by becoming an Exco member, since he could not deviate greatly from the government's stance on issues - possibly angering radical rural factions.