Split emerges among Hong Kong rural leaders over plan for a new party

Leaders of 15 of 27 rural committees meet to try to persuade supporters of party plan to drop the idea, fearing it will sow division

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2016, 8:24pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2016, 10:23am

In what is seen as the worst split in Hong Kong’s rural force, leaders representing more than half of the rural committees in the New Territories have joined forces in a bid to block their fellow elders’ plan to form a new political party.

They accused the proponents of trying to hijack the Heung Yee Kuk – a government-recognised advisory body representing the interests of indigenous villagers – for their own political gain.

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Leaders of 15 of the 27 rural committees, mainly from the outlying islands and the southern New Territories, met on Wednesday to try to persuade the kuk leadership to stop the plan.

Kuk vice-chairman Daniel Lam Wai-keung chaired the meeting.

The meeting however got off to a tense start when about 20 supporters of a new party, led by Sheung Shui and Yuen Long rural elders Bowie Hau Chi-keung and Leung Fuk-yuen, forced their way into the venue, demanding an open debate with their opponents.

Some of them waved placards that read “New Territories people, support new party” and shouted slogans as they swamped the Sha Tin rural committee office where the meeting was held.

A brief confrontation followed but tension eased after they were allowed to sit in on the meeting.

The political party plan is a pet project of Hau and Leung. Kuk chairman Kenneth Lau Ip-keung, son of rural patriarch Lau Wong-fat, nicknamed Uncle Fat, has also voiced support. Hau said the party could be launched as early as this month after months of preparation.

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But Sha Tin rural committee chairman Mok Kam-kwai, an opponent of Hau’s plan, questioned if it was a “politically wise” move.

“When Uncle Fat was in charge [of the kuk], he always reminded us not to make enemies but make more friends,” said Mok. “What good will a new party bring us? Inevitably we will have to compete with other allies in elections.”

South Lamma Island rural committee chairman Chow Yuk-tong, another opponent of the party plan, also feared the new party could become a “second power” and could weaken the role and power of the kuk.

Leung argued: “What is wrong with having a new platform for New Territories residents to voice their views?” Hau added: “The kuk is only an advisory body. We need a stronger platform that can translate talk into action.”

The kuk is formed according to the Heung Yee Kuk Ordinance, which bars it from becoming a political party.

The kuk has a seat in the Legislative Council. Its current representative is Lau Wong-fat, who is also a member of the pro-business Business and Professionals Alliance.

There are reports that Lau senior will retire from politics after the end of the current legislative session for health reasons.

The kuk has been an important pro-establishment political force in the past, playing a key role in mobilising villagers to support candidates from pro-government parties.

But rows have erupted between the kuk and the government in recent years over the small house policy and town planning issues that restrict village development.

Lam played down a split within the rural force, saying: “It is very natural that there are different views within an organisation. It is not the first time and it will not be the last time there are differences among us.”

On the younger Lau’s leadership, Lam said: “He is still green as he has only been chairman for several months. There are still a lot for us to work out.”

In a statement, the younger Lau called for unity and harmony, saying “all rural villagers are brothers”.

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Hau and Mok debated the issue publicly again on Thursday.

Speaking on RTHK, Hau said his new party would speak up for all New Territories residents and seek to attract the silent majority who did not vote in the Legco election in 2012. He said the party would be launched on April 25.

But when the host interviewed Mok on the phone, the Sha Tin elder reiterated his concerns over internal rivalry in the pro-establishment camp.

“In the past, matters were resolved in Legco because everyone treated us as friends, but if we are now their competitors ... what can we do if we are in trouble in the future?” Mok asked.

Hau and Mok then started to debate live on air, with Hau hitting back: “You let me know if you can find an enemy of mine ... If you fish with a small boat, you get less, but if you use a trawler, you will get [much more]! Why are you so foolish to insist on fishing in a small pond?”

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung