Leung Fuk-yuen, long-time leader of Hong Kong’s rural villagers, decides not to seek re-election
Ardent defender of small-house policy in New Territories, who is no stranger to controversy, says time has come for next generation to lead
A long-time defender of Hong Kong villagers’ interests is calling time on his public service career of nearly three decades, declaring that a powerful rural body should not be not be an “elderly home”.
Leung Fuk-yuen, 61, and known as “Uncle McDonald” for his pompadour hairstyle, has decided not to seek another term as the Tai Tong village head in next year’s election for the position. He has held the job for 27 years.
The decision means he would eventually have to surrender his chairmanship of the Shap Pat Heung rural committee, which ensures him a seat at the governing body of the influential rural organisation Heung Yee Kuk, a government-recognised advisory group representing New Territories villagers.
Leung has been sitting on the kuk’s executive committee for 14 years.
“It is time to make way for the young people. Rural politics need to be rejuvenated,” he said.
“I hate gerontocracy. The kuk should not become a home for the elderly. We need new thinking and to let more young people play a bigger role in rural affairs or join the kuk.”
Leung is already among the youngest in the kuk’s leadership. While kuk chairman Kenneth Lau Ip-keung is 52 years old, his two deputies – Cheung Hok-ming and Daniel Lam Wai-keung – are 65 and 69. And of the body’s 60 ex-officio executive councillors, Benton Cheung Yan-lung is 96, and Choy Kan-pui is 89.
“A good image also matters,” Leung added. “We need young people who are educated and know how to navigate modern politics and advocate for us.”
To illustrate his point, he singled out fellow rural leader Bowie Hau Chi-keung, saying: “When people see him on TV wearing sunglasses and speaking in a coarse manner, they might be misled to think that all rural villagers are like gangsters. Isn’t it unfortunate?”
Asked about Leung’s plan to retire from the kuk, Hau, 62, who is a Sheung Shui rural committee chairman, said with a smile: “I am looking forward to it.”
Leung described how he knew it was time for him to quit politics.
“When you easily get frustrated at having to talk with politicians or government officials who are totally ignorant about New Territories affairs, it’s time to go.”
Yet he argued officials should not ignore villagers’ voices.
“If the government is serious about solving housing problems, it has to develop the New Territories,” Leung said. “We in the New Territories have land. The government has to discuss this with us and give us proper compensation.”
Leung and Hau were key advocates for forming the political party New Progressive Alliance in 2016 to represent New Territories villagers. But the plan was eventually aborted amid speculation that Beijing refused to back it.
Although Leung has professed to have no interest in politics, he is no stranger to public controversy.
In 2012, Tai Tong Organic EcoPark – an attraction operated by the Leung family – was found to have illegally occupied about half a hectare of government land and part of a country park for 18 years. The case triggered an outcry, prompting the removal of illegal structures from the site.
Defiant, Leung called the case one of government exploitation.
“Outsiders often misunderstand us indigenous residents to be like sacred cows because they think we were guaranteed land to build our own houses under the small-house policy,” he explained. “But please bear in mind that before the British came, all land in the New Territories was owned by indigenous residents. Now the government can arbitrarily zone our land and ban us from developing our land.”
Leung found himself in an even larger row during the 2012 chief executive election. He was reported to be one of the village leaders who attended a dinner with former city leader Leung Chun-ying’s campaign team at which controversial businessman Kwok Wing-hung, known as “Shanghai Boy”, was present.
The incident sparked questions over whether people close to the future chief executive had colluded with gangsters. Authorities later found no wrongdoing to have taken place.