RAUB, April 21 — The big gold mine in Raub is turning into a rich vein of anger that the DAP is tapping in its quest to capture the Barisan Nasional (BN) stronghold in Election 2013.
Some residents told The Malaysian Insider that after fighting for more than six years for its closure with little results, the only option left was to oust BN from Putrajaya by adding Raub to Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) federal seat tally.
For the local Chinese, race is not an issue. When the DAP named Datuk Mohd Ariff Sabri, or popularly known as Sakmongkol AK47 after his anti-establishment blog, as its man for the seat, residents looked at the logo he carries on his chest, not his skin colour.
“The MCA gave empty promises. They said they will help us about the cyanide (exposure) but until now nothing.
“Whether or not he is a Malay it doesn’t matter, as long as he represents our interests,” 57 year-old housewife Yap told The Malaysian Insider while waiting for Mohd Ariff to speak at a ceramah in Cheroh here last night.
Bukit Koman residents have insisted that they are exposed to unacceptable levels of cyanide exposure from the Raub Australian Gold Mine plant daily despite denials by the BN state government and allegations that the issue is an agenda of opposition parties instead of real environmental concerns.
According to the Ban Cyanide Action Committee (BCAC), about 3,000 Bukit Koman residents are exposed to hydrogen cyanide concentrations of 0.5 to 0.8ppm daily.
But because the outfit is predominantly Chinese, one BCAC activist said it gave BN the opportunity to make its campaign appear communal.
However, DAP’s move field Mohd Ariff here and his promise to take up the issue should PR wrest federal power at the May 5 polls would help debunk claims that BCAC’s campaign was racially driven.
“Only Umno sees it as race thing. For us it is never an issue…that is why we have Sakmongkol here. He will explain all that,” Hue, a 67 year-old pensioner and Bukit Koman resident, told The Malaysian Insider.
During his ceramah, the former Pekan Umno’s information chief told a Chinese audience not to play into BN’s racial tactics and pointed to how the community had been neglected by the MCA despite having backed them in the past.
“You’ve had a minister here and what did she do about Bukit Koman? Nothing,” he said, referring to Raub’s incumbent and MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Ng Yen Yen who won the seat in Election 2008 with just over a 2,000 majority.
The audience responded well. One of them, 56 year-old Fan, said she saw Mohd Ariff as an honest man since he left Umno to join the opposition and its struggle. And like the rest, his skin colour was of no importance to her.
“People now vote for the party, not the candidate. His race is a non-issue. You can put a PAS leader here and I’ll voter for him,” she told The Malaysian Insider, adding that MCA’s campaign to portray DAP as backer of pro-hudud PAS to scare the Chinese will not work.
Mohd Ariff will be up against MCA’s Datuk Hoh Khai Mun in a straight fight at the May 5 polls. Local opposition workers here said DAP is confident of bagging the Chinese votes and is now focusing on courting the Malays which will be crucial for a PR win.
Mohd Ariff said the Bukit Koman cyanide exposure issue will take centre stage in the fight for Raub. PR had vowed to suspend the plant pending an environmental impact assessment.
Hydrogen cyanide gas was used by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust for mass execution in the gas chambers, and was also part of the United States and Soviet Union’s chemical warfare arsenal.
BCAC has gone through several defeats since the plant was opened in 2009 to extract gold from ore using a controversial process involving highly poisonous cyanide.
In January, the Ministry of Health rejected three of the five experts nominated by BCAC for a joint research panel with the ministry to investigate health effects of the plant.