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Prasad, Chaudhry Battle Heats Up Cane Belt Politics

ANALYSIS:In the old days cane fires usually preceded an election as rival sugar farmers’ groups hurled accusations at each other. The Government and the then Colonial Sugar Refining (CSR) Company
11 May 2017 11:04
Prasad, Chaudhry Battle  Heats Up Cane Belt Politics
Mahendra Chaudhry

ANALYSIS:In the old days cane fires usually preceded an election as rival sugar farmers’ groups hurled accusations at each other.

The Government and the then Colonial Sugar Refining (CSR) Company were caught in the middle. The miller did not escape the farmers’ wrath too.

Today, the two surviving farmers’ unions, the Fiji Labour Party-backed National Farmers Union and the National Federation Party-sponsored Fiji Cane Growers Association, are spreading the proverbial fire in the cane belt in separate wave after wave of attacks against the Fiji Sugar Corporation and the Government.

The motive of NFP leader, Biman Prasad and FLP leader, Mahendra Chaudhry is to outdo each other in a point-scoring game, using the FSC and the FijiFirst Government as targets.

It’s reminiscent of their parties’ battle in the 1980’s and post 1987 coup. Prior to 1987, there was a third player, the Fiji Kisan Sangh, backed by the then ruling Alliance Government of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

The Sangh gradually lost its support in the 1980’s to the then Federation of Cane Growers, forerunner of the FCGA and the NFU.

It suffered a natural death with the death of then Alliance Party.

The FCGA was formed in 1992 to counter the growing strength of the NFU which won the sugar election for the Sugar Cane Growers Council.

The NFU’s cane belt popularity later translated into electoral votes in the 1999 General Election which saw the FLP score a decisive and historic victory that handed Mr Chaudhry the distinction of being the first Indo-Fijian to become Prime Minister.

His reign was short-lived when George Speight led a coup in 2000. Although he bounced back in the subsequent election and later joined the Bainimarama Government after the 2006 takeover, his currency exchange conviction was a major blow to his reputation and many of his supporters left the party.

Now he has returned to his roots in the cane fields and is trying to recreate those glory days.

Not to be outdone, Mr Prasad, who does not have the same kind of political experience as Mr Chaudhry has, is making promises to the cane farmers in a desperate bid to woo them over. One of those promises is his government will reopen the Cyclone Winston-devasted Penang Mill.

But Mr Prasad and Mr Chaudhry should be aware that they are up against two very formidable personalities in the FSC’s chief executive officer Graham Clark and Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, the Minister for Sugar.

Mr Bainimarama, as he is widely known, believes in action. He will deal with the farmers’ grievances promptly and will be straight up with them if certain things can’t be done and why, like he did in the case of the much debated Penang mill. He said the mill was too expensive to repair. Mr Clark, he added, was looking at a proposal to build a new mill.

Mr Bainimarama will be in Tavua today to hold a talanoa session for the cane farmers with Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. He wants to hear straight from the farmers, not from Mr Prasad and Mr Chaudhry whom he said had tried to politicise the sugar industry.

Since Mr Clark started work on March 1, he has come through as a sincere and passionate communicator who sounds genuinely concerned with trying to help the cane farmers and at the same time improve sugar production. He has an impressive international experience in the sugar industry.

Although they have farmer groups, Mr Prasad and Mr Chaudhry will find Mr Bainimarama and Mr Clark tough to handle.

Feedback:  nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj



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