Will Hong Kong’s Heung Yee Kuk rural powerhouse endure without ‘big brother’ Lau Wong-fat?

Some members say they have faith in son and new chairman Kenneth Lau, and culture will not change but others still worry rural power base may disintegrate

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 1:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 11:26pm

The death of rural strongman Lau Wong-fat has left the powerful body representing Hong Kong’s village interests without its “big brother” for the first time in nearly four decades, but some members appear confident the Heung Yee Kuk will not be rudderless.

Prominent kuk member Bowie Hau Chi-keung, who chairs the Sheung Shui Rural Committee, said on Monday that Lau’s son and new kuk chairman Kenneth Lau Ip-keung was “improving” and would continue to lead the group in protecting the interests of New Territories residents.

However, some kuk members remained worried that the rural power base was disintegrating, also considering that Hau himself had openly opposed the village patriarch, who died, aged 80, over the weekend.

The chair of the Heung Yee Kuk, a government recognised advisory body on New Territories affairs, was passed on by Lau to his son Kenneth in 2015. The younger Lau also inherited “Uncle Fat’s” seat in the legislature.

Leung Che-cheung, president of the pro-Beijing New Territories Association of Societies, noted that Hau had been a dissident kuk member. He cited Hau’s plan to push for a new political party in 2015 to represent New Territories residents, a move the kuk saw as a challenge to its role of protecting rural interests.

Hong Kong’s ‘King of New Territories’ Lau Wong-fat dies at age 80

Hau was forced to drop the plan because of Lau’s opposition, but he insisted on running in last year’s Legislative Council election despite the younger Lau’s objection. Hau lost after securing only 6,720 votes, roughly 1.2 per cent of the total cast in the New Territories East constituency.

“If Uncle Fat was in charge, such [a display of defiance] would not have been possible,” said Leung, also a lawmaker from the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

A kuk source said: “Hau has become a joke after the humiliating defeat. But it would be naive to treat him as being irrelevant. He will remain a naughty boy. The problem now is that Kenneth Lau seems to lack leadership and some rural leaders do not like to give him face.”

During the chief executive election earlier this year, Hau indicated he might not toe the kuk’s line to support Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and could consider voting for her main rival John Tsang Chun-wah.

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In a radio interview on Monday, Hau declined to say if he would still seek to form a separate political party. But he brushed off worries over the rural power base disintegrating into “a host of dragons without a head”, saying the 27 village committees remained united as before.

He rated Kenneth Lau’s performance as “improving”, but said it was too early to conclude if he could “master” the kuk.

“I believe that as long as the government has development [in the New Territories], the Heung Yee Kuk will continue playing the role of a bridge between villagers, residents, and the government,” Hau said. “This will not change, whoever is chairing it.”

Political commentator Dr Bruce Kwong Kam-kwan said: “The younger Lau has probably felt the undercurrent. Unless he can win the support of some powerful rural elders, the worst scenario is that he could lose his kuk chairmanship in the next kuk election.”

Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung