Rural leader Lau Wong-fat dies aged 80 - RTHK
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Rural leader Lau Wong-fat dies aged 80

2017-07-23 HKT 17:03
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  • Rural leader Lau Wong-fat dies aged 80
Maggie Ho reports
Powerful rural leader Lau Wong-fat has died at the age of 80. His son, Kenneth, said he died peacefully at home, surrounded by family. Dubbed the "King of the New Territories", Lau was a powerbroker between indigenous villagers in the New Territories and the government, both before and after the handover.

Members of the Heung Yee Kuk sent their condolences. In a statement, the rural body said indigenous villagers respected Lau for protecting their traditional rights. The Kuk also said Lau safeguarded the stability and prosperity of both the New Territories and Hong Kong.

The Chief Executive Carrie Lam also expressed her sorrow. She said Lau had made a valuable contribution to Hong Kong.

Lau Wong-fat was born into a poor farming family in Tuen Mun in 1936. He entered politics at the age of 24, after being elected the youngest-ever representative of his village. He later became chairman of the Tuen Mun Rural Committee - a position that he held for more than 40 years.

But it was in 1980 that he assumed the role of powerbroker between indigenous New Territories villagers and the government when he was named chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk - the powerful rural statutory advisory body.

Lau's status as rural chieftain was further consolidated when he fought to get an article inserted into the Basic Law to ensure the protection of indigenous interests after the transfer of sovereignty in 1997.

He was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal in 2005 - the highest honour the government can confer on an individual for his contributions to Hong Kong.

But there were also some embarrassing moments. In his capacity as New Year fortune stick drawer, Lau drew one of the most unlucky sticks in 2013 - and ten years earlier he had been on hand when another very unlucky fortune stick was drawn - the year Hong Kong was ravaged by SARS.

Lau owned hundreds of plots of land and dozens of properties and he was criticised in 2010 for failing to declare some of these assets to the government.

Known affectionately as "Uncle Fat", Lau had been both an Executive Councillor and, from the 1980s, a lawmaker. But his performance in the legislature was less than impressive. He did not move a single motion until 2013, and had one of the council's worst attendance records.

In 2015, Lau stepped down as Heung Yee-Kuk chairman, prompting speculation about his health.

And it was his health, or his tardiness, that led to one the greatest political blunders of the pro-government camp.

As the legislature was called to vote on the government's controversial political reform package in June 2016, 31 lawmakers walked out of the chamber. They had wanted to adjourn the proceedings because Lau had not yet arrived.

This backfired terribly as it allowed the pan-democrat camp to defeat the proposal by 28 votes to 8. Lau later apologised for being late, saying he had felt unwell.

Last updated: 2017-07-22 HKT 18:15