Candle Protest Planned Against Impending Electricity Rate Hike

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 26 March 2014

RANGOON — Activists in Burma’s commercial capital plan to hold a candle-lit protest against an electricity price increase due to take effect April 1, with demonstrators planning to stage the action in front of City Hall on Wednesday night.

Last week, Parliament approved a government proposal to implement a long-expected hike in electricity prices on April 1. Under the plan, for households using under 100 kilowatt hours, or units, per month, the price will remain at 35 kyats (less than 4 US cents) per unit. The price will rise to 40 kyats per unit for those using between 101 and 200 units in a month, and to 50 kyats for those using more than 200 units.

For businesses, the basic charge for those using less than 500 units per month will remain at the current level of 75 kyats. But large consumers using over 500 units will pay 150 kyats per unit above the 500 threshold.

Tin Htut Paing, a member of the activist Generation Youth, said about 100 Rangoon-based activists planned to stage the protest on Wednesday at 6pm, without having received permission to do so from relevant local authorities, as is required by law.

“Some people have said that the amount of the hike in electricity prices is not that much, but for us, increased prices are still more than the current prices. We protested this last year, and they stopped the plan. Now, it’s back again,” he said.

“We feel like the government is insulting the people. They don’t care about what people want,” he added.

Candle-wielding protestors will gather at City Hall before marching to nearby Sule Pagoda, much like protestors demonstrating against a proposed electricity rate hike last November. About 100 activists in Rangoon took to the streets on Nov. 6 to protest the government plan to increase electricity rates.

“We didn’t seek permission from the government for this protest, we know what will happen,” said Tin Htut Paing, who declined to say which groups would be involved in the protest.

Tin Htut Paing has run afoul of the law in previous candle protests, charged with violating Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, which requires prior permission from local authorities for any planned protest. Tin Htut Paing, who has been charged 22 times under Section 18, said he had faced legal action from authorities in Kyauktada, Sanchaung, Kyimyindaing and Ahlone townships for the November candle protest. However, violators of Section 18 were cleared of the charges in an amnesty by President Thein Sein in late December.

According to government data, the new electricity regime would reportedly save about US$272 million from the government’s annual spending on supplying power.

Figures from the Ministry of Electric Power indicate that 56.6 percent of households do not use more than 100 units per month, and 55.6 percent of businesses use less than 500 units.