Northern Cane Belts Backing Chaudhry
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By REGGIE DUTT, reporting in the North of Fiji: August 13, 2001 Wansolwara Online (USP)
LABASA (Pasifik Nius): The cane belts of the northern island of Vanua Levu are ringing in support for the Mahendra Chaudhry-led Fiji Labour Party.
Farmers and labourers would not hear of any other party.
And they say why they support the deposed prime minister's crusade to get back into power.
In Wainikoro, in the interior of the northern island of Vanua Levu - where about 100 leases have expired and a similar number are expected to expire - the evicted and the about-to-be-evicted are quietly rallying their support behind FLP.
Shiu Narayan has about eight years to run on his his lease and says that once it expires, he has nowhere to go.
"That is the reason why I support the Labour party," says Narayan.
"The People’s Coalition government did more for us in a year than any other government has done in the past," he says, in a line which has almost become a cliché.
"We have always voted for FLP because they are the ones who have been fighting for us farmers and labourers.
"They [Peoples Coalition] showed a lot of courage during the political crisis last year and were not afraid to die for us.
"That is what the people here want in our leaders and that is why we will be supporting Labour (FLP)," he said.
Narayan’s views are echoed by other farmers in the Wainikoro and other areas around Labasa.
Vunicuicui is a half an hour's bus ride out of Labasa town and is located in a picturesque valley with a winding river.
Land is fertile and cane crops for the farmers have been good. Here too farmers have no doubt who they want to form the next government.
As a group of men harvest cane, they talk about what the People’s Coalition government was doing for the ordinary people.
"They were weeding out corruption from this country," says one canecutter.
"That is one thing that could not be digested by a corrupt few and for me that is the real reason for the coup.
"For at the end of the day, as our religious scriptures say, in this day and age, evil will try to suppress the truth. Chaudhry was trying to uncover the truth. That’s why he was overthrown.
"We need people who are willing to dig out the truth in this world."
The support for FLP isn't just from Indo-Fijian farmers, but also the indigenous ones as well.
Most indigenous farmers were reluctant go on record, let alone openly say who they might vote for in this election. But the issues they raised give some idea.
The reason for not going on record is it would be against the norms of the village to voice individual opinions.
But they want the same basic things that most Indo-Fijian farmers are asking for.
Food prices need to be reduced, value added tax (VAT) removed from essential food items, poverty reduced, and children’s education made free.
The FLP offered this in the 1999 elections and was able to achieve to some extent before the insurrection in May.
Other parties are also offering what the people in rural Labasa need but it would come down to who has a proven track record on such issues. It looks like votes guaranteed for FLP.