The election of new leaders to head a conflict-plagued triad society has been put on hold to allow potential candidates time to serve pending jail terms, police sources say.
The postponement of the underworld ballot until April next year means infighting among factions of the Wo On Lok - one of the city's most active triad gangs - is likely to continue for another 10 months, the sources say.
"Intelligence shows that the delay is to avoid creating an unfair election for those who will run but are likely to be jailed for criminal charges they are involved in," one source said.
The postponement was agreed at a secret meeting of past and present leaders aimed at ending a three-year power struggle that erupted into violence in 2011 and 2012.
One of the violent incidents led to a traffic policeman shooting dead a knife-wielding thug in May 2012.
Police have since arrested a number of the triad's faction leaders and their henchmen in a series of operations.
The sources say the gang ceased its high-risk illegal businesses after the crackdown and key figures have since adopted a low profile.
Elections are usually held every two years. But the power struggle broke out after two leaders elected in 2009, nicknamed Fei Wai and Sam Chuen, refused to step down in 2011, sparking a row with their newly elected rivals, known as Dai Ma and Chi Fung.
The factions recently reached agreement to elect new leaders from candidates nominated by both sides, but charges faced by some of the potential candidates, and likely jail terms, have caused the delay, the source said.
The Wo On Lok, also known as Shui Fong (Water Room), was founded by a group of workers in a soft-drinks factory in Sham Shui Po more than 70 years ago.
Its illegal businesses include extortion, loan sharking, drug trafficking and the control of nightclubs, mahjong dens and massage parlours. According to police, its turf extends across Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok.
Holding a traditional ritual to elect new triad leaders, membership of a triad or claiming to be a member are illegal in Hong Kong, but such charges are difficult to prove.
Successful arrests of senior triad members depend on undercover operations, according to a senior police officer.
"But they have become more alert to our undercover operations," the officer said.
A police spokeswoman said the triad problem was under control and police would continue to monitor triads' illegal activities.
Police figures show reports of triad-related crimes dropped by almost 13 per cent to 568 in the first four months of this year from 652 in the same period last year.