A new era for Hong Kong's 700 villages begins today as residents choose representatives in the first election under the 'two-heads' system. Under the Village Representatives Election Ordinance, which was enacted in February, indigenous villagers - those who can trace their roots back to 1898 - will elect one representative, while the entire village population will choose another. The polls, which follow a three-year row between indigenous and the general rural population, mark the first time in Hong Kong's history that non-indigenous residents can be elected as village heads. The row erupted in 2000 after a Court of Final Appeal ruling found existing election arrangements to be in breach of human rights obligations. While indigenous villagers criticised the new law for harming their traditional rights, the government believed the system could balance human rights and traditional interests. Daniel Lam Wai-keung, vice-chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk, the body representing rural interests, said he believed today's election would be conducted in a peaceful manner and that it could also unify the two groups. But Tang Siu-tong, of the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance, who has lobbied on behalf of villagers to oppose the new system, said it would undermine indigenous villagers' interests. 'Conflicts will arise in future as the two groups come from different cultural and family backgrounds,' Mr Tang said. A total of 1,291 village representatives will be elected. Among them, 930 candidates will return uncontested. There are 189 seats without nominations, among them 100 villages that do not have enough voters to make nominations, while the others stand a chance of a by-election later. According to electoral rules, there should be at least five voters to make a nomination. The polls will be conducted every Saturday and Sunday until August 17.