Spacious bungalows such as those in Lorong Tok Sira and more modest terrace houses in Kuantan Garden in the state capital of Pahang are mostly filled with families and retirees whose children have sought employment opportunities elsewhere.
Today, everything changed. One could not believe the scenes that took place in Padang MPK4 this morning, as the hype generated by Himpunan Hijau (Green Gathering) 2.0 seemed more normal in bustling Kuala Lumpur than sleepy Kuantan.
Dissent came to the charming tourist town of Kuantan, when rare earth plant Lynas commenced construction in nearby Gebeng last year, raising resident’s fears. If the 15,000 strong crowd at Green Gathering 2.0 this morning was a good gauge, this new culture of dissent is here to stay.
It is a positive change for Kuantan, from the serene Teluk Cempedak beach to the riverfront city centre. Although it is the state capital, Kuantan is home to only 700,000 people, mostly small business owners, fishermen, civil servants.
To begin with, a crowd of this size would be considered massive even in KL. Admittedly, many of the 15,000 who turned up in Kuantan for this morning’s rally were out-of-towners who bused down or drove in as early as days before.
But local sentiment for the “Stop Lynas, Save Malaysia” campaign is high too. A simple count in town shows that many cars with Pahang registration plates sport anti-Lynas stickers. Plenty of “uncles and aunties” are seen donning anti-Lynas t-shirts, with some even creating kid’s-sized tees for their children.
Much of the Green Gathering 2.0 crowd swell could be attributed to PKR shifting its retreat to Kuantan in a last minute decision that saw top national leadership from PR parties showing up.
Top PR leaders who made an appearance included PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, DAP Parliamentary Leader Lim Kit Siang, and a host of other younger leaders who joined activists on top of a large lorry forming a makeshift stage.
The 76-year-old National Laureate A. Samad Said recited a poem to the crowd entitled “Gebeng yang meluka” (hurting Gebeng). His Bersih 2.0 co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan also spoke, followed by activist Hishamudin Rais who introduced three green activists. The activists revealed three other projects that were potentially harmful including an incinerator in Cameron Highlands.
PKR MPs got the lion’s share of crowd facetime, but DAP leader Lim Kit Siang who made a late appearance was warmly welcomed by the packed crowd who stood up to greet him and jostled to take his picture. Other DAP leaders who attended the Green Gathering 2.0 included Tan Seng Giaw, Tony Pua, Liew Chin Tong, Ronnie Liu, Jenice Lee, Teo Kok Seong, and Wong Kah Woh.
Various groups conducted different activities in other parts of the MPK4 field. Save Jalan Sultan Group staged a live exhibit with a mock dead body and warning signs protesting against the Lynas plant.
Large petition banners were unfurled on the ground for the crowd to sign. A contingent of cyclists came decked out in their gear, proudly posing with their bicycles.
Some green-clad protestors stood by the main road holding up banners while passing cars honked in support and took photos. One busker played the guitar and harmonica with a self-composed tune about “the oppressed, victims of robbers and pirates”.
The multiracial crowd of all ages dispersed peacefully at 1pm without any incident.
If the Bersih 1.0 rally was the catalyst for change in the 2008 General Election, will the Green Gathering 2.0 kickstart a new wave of dissent in the run-up to the 13th General Election?
It remains to be seen but for now, one thing is for certain, Kuantan culture been changed irrevocably by the Lynas plant and the controversy it has stirred. –The Rocket