A FEW years before GE13, villagers from Kampung Balok, along the coast of Kuantan, were alarmed when the Opposition told them that a radioactive plant would be built in their backyard.
The Opposition had demonstrated in Kampung Balok against the proposed Lynas plant. Located in a 100ha site in the Gebeng Industrial Estate, it would be one of the largest and most modern rare earth separation plants in the world.
“We were scared when we heard about radiation. We were told radiation was dangerous,” recalled Kampung Balok village head Mansor Mokthar.
“We are kampung people. We’ve never heard of Lynas. The Opposition came to our village and told us that the Lynas plant was bad as it was radioactive. We were told that the radiation would make us cacat (disabled) or sick.”
In 2011, the most dramatic YouTube clip against Lynas, starring its most vocal critic Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh of PKR, spread online.
Her four-minute, 44-second video showed her acting the role of Chef Wan.
The “chef” prepared a dish from ingredients mutated by radiation such as two-headed and three-legged chickens, fish-headed squids, prawns with long tentacles and zebra-striped bananas. The video, which Fuziah described as “dramatic comedy”, was to raise awareness about Lynas.
In GE13, Lynas was a radioactive issue that Fuziah, who was defending her Kuantan parliamentary seat, used as her main campaign with the Chinese voters.
Fast forward to 2018. Lynas is a non-issue.
“After GE13, we realised that what the Opposition had said about Lynas was not true. The Opposition was senyap (quiet) about Lynas after the elections. And we then knew that it was an issue they brought up just for GE13,” said Mansor, the 47-year-old village head.
“After Lynas, the Opposition went on to the Bauxite issue. When we asked them what happened to the Lynas issue, they said it was okay as Lynas was following the safety procedure. Now they are bringing up the ECRL (East Coast Rail Link) and Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park.”
Kampung Balok is the closest village to the Lynas plant. The village, which is in the Indera Mahkota parliamentary constituency, is about 13km from the plant and is about 19km from Kuantan. It is a coastal village and most of the villagers were fishermen. Now only about 20% of them are fishermen while the rest are civil servants or factory workers.
Among the Kuantan residents, Lynas is no longer a “radioactive” company. Before GE13, the company staff could not wear their uniform outside of the plant. Some of them would get chased out of grocery stores while some could not rent a room because the local folk shunned them.
“The Opposition said we were radioactive and we glowed in the dark. They said we had mutated and would kill them,” said a Lynas employer who did not want to be named.
“But now we are welcomed anywhere in Kuantan. We can wear our uniform. Nobody shuns us and they are friendly to us.”
It changed because the scientific data had convinced the local folk that Lynas is not what the Opposition had portrayed it to be. The company’s community engagement activities have also helped to win the heart of the local population.
Fuziah, the two-term Kuantan MP who will be defending her seat in GE14, said in the last elections the main issue she raised among the Chinese voters was the safety concern of Lynas. It was a non-issue for most of the Malays in GE13, who were more concerned about issues affecting their daily life like water disruption and public transport.
She defended her anti-Lynas campaign by saying that she did not attack the company based on radiation.
“They are two different things – low-level radiation and low-level long life radioactive waste.
“My campaign was on waste management. It is a complex issue which is open to interpretation,” she said.
The Kuantan MP also denied she had ever said that the radiation will turn fish or animals in the Kuantan area into mutants.
“We produced one video which was very dramatic and people took it out of proportion,” she said.
The Lynas issue will take a backseat in her campaign this time around. She admitted that it is no longer a hot issue, so she will talk more about national issues to the Chinese voters and bread-and-butter issues to the Malays.
Beserah incumbent Andansura Rabu of PAS agreed that the Lynas issue had cooled down.
Lynas comes under his state seat of Beserah, which is in the Indera Mahkota parliamentary constituency. If you travel south on the coastal road along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia – from Kampung Balok to Kuantan – you will be in the Indera Mahkota constituency. After you pass the Semambu town, you will reach the Kuantan parliamentary constituency.
On the voters who said they felt the Opposition had cheated them with the Lynas issue, the assemblyman, who is a Lynas critic, said: “They got frightened. It is not an issue of being lied to. It was an issue of hazardous waste.”
The truth about Lynas is there are no mutants in Kuantan. It was all a dramatic comedy.
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