University of strife: Lingnan's new council member Junius Ho Kwan-yiu never far from controversy
Solicitor Junius Ho has never been too far from controversy; his new role at Lingnan University finds him at the centre of the storm once again
Often a controversial figure, outspoken solicitor Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, who was recently appointed a member of the governing council of Lingnan University, once again finds himself in troubled waters. Even before his three-year term starts on Thursday, Ho has already made himself an object of derision among students.
The university student union has planned a protest against Ho's appointment today, with the council due to meet, and union president Philip Lau Chun-lam has spoken of a class strike and possible violence. The students also want the law to be amended so that the chief executive no longer serves as chancellor of local universities.
Speculating as to why the government appointed a man known for his bitter criticism of Lingnan's student union to the council easily leads to conspiracy theories that it is a bid to interfere with university autonomy and academic freedom.
There is also the belief among some that Beijing wants the Leung Chun-ying government to tighten its grip on youth affairs following last year's student-led Occupy protests, which Ho opposed by setting up his own "Protect Central" group.
"I find these theories puzzling. I will not sit in the classroom. I will not sit in on the student union. I am just appointed to be a member of the council. How can I interfere with the institutional autonomy or academic freedom?" Ho, 53, said in defence of his appointment.
At yesterday's RTHK City Forum, Ho also urged students to take a more objective view of his position. "My belief is that [my appointment] is definitely not [a political move]. I participate in charity work …work with educational groups from primary, secondary and even kindergarten level. My appointment is definitely appropriate," said Ho.
Hostility between Lingnan student activists and Ho dates back to May when he urged the university to disband the student union after it featured a pop band that sang anti-police songs with foul language at a campus concert in April. Ho said playing such songs could be a violation of the Public Order Ordinance because the lyrics were both intimidating and insulting.
Earlier this month, Ho said he did not think he had been appointed because he had been critical of student activists. "I was not targeting the students. I just raised my concerns," said Ho, "Students are not above the law."
Doing himself no favours in terms of mending the relations, Ho recently traded barbs with Lau over his council membership during a radio programme. Lau called Ho an "ignorant idiot", while Ho hit back and warned Lau he could be sued for libel.
"Ho will not shy away from controversy. He thrives on it. I am not saying that he tries to attract media attention by churning out harsh criticisms. But he is a straightforward, no-nonsense kind of man," said Tsang Shu-wo, chairman of Ping Shan rural committee of Yuen Long and a long-time friend of Ho.
Ho comes from a family of village leaders. He grew up on the old site of Leung Tin Tsuen village in Tuen Mun, and is a 32nd generation descendant of his Hakka clan which, according to family records, can be traced back to the 10th century.
In the 1980s, his family led villagers in a lengthy fight for compensation when the colonial government wanted to clear their village to make way for public housing. The government eventually backed down and most of the villagers were offered a house. Leung Tin Tsuen village was also relocated to near Hoh Fook Tong Centre in Tuen Mun.
Ho was elected village head in 2011, and in a subsequent campaign widely reported to have been initiated by him, he ousted rural patriarch Lau Wong-fat and replaced him as chairman of Tuen Mun rural committee - a post that guaranteed him a seat on Tuen Mun District Council.
He made more headlines after leading a campaign against a government crackdown on illegal structures in village houses. The government proposed a registration system for lesser breaches of planning rules. Once registered, the structures could be kept for at least five years. But Ho called on villagers to boycott the system because signing the registration form would amount to "self-incrimination".
In 2013, Ho and several fellow rural leaders formed the New Territories Concern Group, a local pressure group that some observers see as Ho's platform to expand his political influence. "It has the DNA of a political party, but there is a long way to go before it can become one," Ho said in an interview earlier this year.
Apart from rural matters, Ho also often makes himself heard in political affairs. Under his chairmanship, the Law Society in 2011 opposed a government proposal to amend election law so that a Legislative Council by-election would only be held if there was no replacement candidate from the original candidate list of the vacating member, or none of the remaining candidates on the list wished to fill the vacancy.
After the Law Society argued this was against the Basic Law, the government subsequently conducted a public consultation and revised its proposal. The amended law prohibits a legislator from standing in a by-election within six months of his or her voluntary resignation. Ho stood in the Legco elections in 2008 and 2012 but was defeated on both occasions.
Last year, Ho defended Beijing's controversial white paper on Hong Kong, over its demands for judges to be patriotic. Critics said this would threaten Hong Kong's judicial independence.
"Since when has being a patriot become unacceptable or even a crime in Hong Kong?" argued Ho, who also dismissed as "groundless" the thinking that a patriotic judge could act against the rule of law.
Ho was returned uncontested as village head of Leung Tin Tsuen in this year's elections. But he did not contest the Tuen Mun rural committee chairmanship - the post went to rival Lau - thus losing Ho his ex officio seat on Tuen Mun District Council.
Determined to make a comeback, Ho is contesting the Lok Tsui constituency seat of Tuen Mun in the district council elections next month. Other candidates include Democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan, who is seeking another term; Yuen Wai-chung, former Democrat and now of neighbourhood group MESSAGE; Cheng Chung-tai of Civic Passion; Cheung Wing-wai; and Shum Kam-tim.
Junius Ho calls himself "liberal pro-establishment". While admitting it would be a difficult battle, he said: "It will be good test of my ability. I, of course, like to win, but I am not afraid of being defeated. Let the voters judge me."
The battle for the hearts and minds of Lingnan's students may be a much harder one.
Profession: senior partner, K.C. Ho and Fong, Solicitors and Notaries
Personal: married, with three children
1975-79: Queen's College, Hong Kong
1979-81: Southend College of Technology (now South Essex College), UK
1981-84: Chelmer Institute of Higher Education (now Anglia Ruskin University), UK
1984-86: University of Hong Kong, postgraduate certificate in laws
Private law practice:
1988: admitted in Hong Kong
1995: admitted in Singapore
1997: admitted in England and Wales
2003: named a 'China-Appointed Attesting Officer' by national Ministry of Justice
2005-11: Law Society vice-president
2010-13: Greater Pearl River Delta Business Council member
2011-12: Law Society president
2011-14: Heung Yee Kuk ex officio executive member
2011-15: Tuen Mun Rural Committee chairman
2011 to present: Hong Kong Football Association independent director