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Burma: MPs untrue to the voters as they support electricity price-hiking

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Burma's voters are beyond belief about the affair of the electricity price-hiking made by the members of parliament during last week parliament sessions. They are frustrated because even most of the major opposition party's representatives-elect, except a very few MPs, did not argue against the unfair proposal of increasing electricity charges especially for the hard-up voters.

The Union Parliament of Myanmar (Burma), a combination of upper and lower houses, has accepted the increase of electricity fees with a few number of MPs' refusal votes. There were only 17 MPs on the side of defiance to the proposed electricity price-hiking. The approval followed after 13 parliament representatives talked about the topic in response to the Electric Power Minister U Khin Maung Soe's proposal on Mar 17 in the parliament.

If the Government of Myanmar has a good memory, it should not put aside the grievance of the citizens who made complaints about electricity shortages in May 2012. Intolerable for electricity shortages, protesters have taken the street in several towns in last week of May 2012, including former capital Rangoon and ancient capital Mandalay since citizens test the limit of democratic changes, warning the quasi-civilian government to take responsibilities for the incompetence management.

After standing by the protests for a few days, police used the dictatorial tactic and cracked down a gathering in the town of Pyi in Bago Division, at least five protesters had faced temporary incarceration. In Mandalay, many members from the National League for Democracy were temporarily held for questioning.

Anti-blackout Protesters accused the current government of selling energy resources to China, for that reason, they said, the country has faced to frequent power cut in the resource-rich country.

The government has cautioned those protestors against power shortages to abide by the law. Remarkably, President's political adviser Ko Ko Hlaing said in a press conference that whereas protests were accustomed to a democratic country, they are required to be authorized and nonviolent. Under new public demonstration laws, public gatherings need to get permission from authorities and they need to apply for permission at least a week ahead.

According to a Reuters news report in that case, the then Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said it was important for Myanmar (Burma) as an ASEAN country to stay the course and resist any temptation to suppress dissent.

"If a country or society aspires to open to democracy, it has to be prepared to deal with popular participation, pressure, demand, conflicts, tension, in some cases violence," Surin, a former foreign minister of Thailand, told Reuters in an interview.

People have been suffering from power shortage for more than two decades. Although the successive military-dominated regimes gain a large sum of hard currency by exporting the natural gas to neighboring countries, it neglects sharing the essential power supplies to its citizens for twenty years.

The government has exploited building national development projects through international financial assistance with no planning of national development via from its export-incomes. Notably the public sector (health, education, sanitation, clean water, electricity etc) has never benefitted from the country's natural gas export earnings.

Some analysts think that the government should not increase the electricity cost which is directly in opposition to its policy of poverty alleviation scheme. The higher power prices could change the situation into a mass demonstration within a few months because it directly interrelated with the large corruption cases in various power development projects run by high-ranking officials.

In fact, most of democratic governments help their people by granting subsidies for the basic things such as rice, cooking oil, fuel and communication charges in order to balance the commodity prices and the workers' earnings. 

The President has repeatedly said that the country is right on the reform path since he took office three years ago. However, the grassroots feel that they are out of the reform process. It is able to be seen that the electrification distribution never reached to the poor waged people who expect social welfare assistance from the government.

In such a situation, self-styled reformist President U Thein Sein sent a letter dated 14 November last year to the parliament, mentioning electricity payment hikes will not be slashed and will go into operation in the 2014-15 fiscal year, as reported by media. His reason is that the increasing fees focus on a long-term preparation for the benefit of the citizens as well as growth of the country's economy.

But, the President's letter seems to be neglecting the people's voice on this matter of electricity fees hiking. According to some Members of Parliament, the topic needs the people's agreement in order to make judgment for hiking payment for electricity consumptions. 

In comparison with the neighboring countries, the electrification rate of Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are 99.4 %, 99.3 % and 97.6 % respectively while Myanmar's rate is just 13 %. Even Bangladesh's rate is 41 %, in keeping with the World Bank's data in 2009.  More than a quarter of Myanmar's people live below the poverty line, and the electrification rate is among the lowest in Southeast Asia.

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Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976. He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. (more...)

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