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Rural strongman Lau Wong-fat has left his position as an ex officio member of the Tuen Mun District Council following his resignation as chairman of the Tuen Mun Rural Committee from

22 February, with his son revealing that the elder Lau planned to retire from public life in stages.

The announcement came on Friday in a government statement, but it did not explain why Lau made the decision.

“The government declared by notice in the gazette today the existence of a vacant ex officio seat in the Tuen Mun District Council,” the statement read.

READ MORE: Veteran power broker Lau Wong-fat to call it a day after 35 years as chief of Hong Kong rural body

“The Tuen Mun Rural Committee will elect its new chairman, who will fill the above vacancy.”

In November, Lau’s son Kenneth Lau Ip-keung said the rural strongman was admitted to hospital because of pneumonia.

The son was quoted by Commercial Radio as saying on Friday that his father was still in hospital but was expected to return home soon. He added that the rural strongman planned to retire from public life in stages.

When asked if his father would eventually resign as a lawmaker, Lau said there was “a great chance”, adding he was interested in contesting the seat in the Tuen Mun Rural Committee vacated by his father. He added his father was still in hospital but would soon be discharged.

Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said Lau had not tendered any resignation to him, adding the lawmaker had been on sick leave. Since late last year, Lau had written to Tsang a total of three sick-leave letters, the latest one requesting leave until March 20, the Legco president said.

Asked if he would invoke his legal power to strip Lau of Legco membership due to severe sickness that rendered him incapable of carrying out his lawmaker’s duty, Tsang said: “There is not a single reason to make me believe so.”

He added that a by-election would not be carried out now, four months before the present Legco term expires in September, were a lawmaker to leave office.

READ MORE: Hong Kong’s rural residents body Heung Yee Kuk vows to flex its political muscle if voice ignored

The younger Lau had already inherited the chairmanship of the Heung Yee Kuk – an advisory body representing the interests of indigenous villagers in the New Territories – from his father last June.

The elder Lau, who still remained as a lawmaker, was caught up in controversy when the government’s political reform package was put to a vote in the Legislative Council in June last year.

During the vote, pro-government lawmaker Ip Kwok-him asked other lawmakers in his camp to walk out in a bid to buy time for the rural strongman to return for the vote. But eight pro-establishment lawmakers stayed in the chamber and voted for the Beijing-backed proposal – losing to the 28 pan-democrats who voted against it.