For-Profit Stages Banned During Water Festival

By The Irrawaddy 4 April 2016

RANGOON — Rangoon’s municipal government has banned all for-profit pavilions during Thingyan and is encouraging the public to celebrate the water festival, which begins next Tuesday, in a simple, traditional way.

Rangoon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein announced the decision at a press conference on Saturday.

“Thingyan should reflect Burmese tradition and culture,” he said, highlighting that it should not focus on drinking alcohol, loud music or instigating trouble.

He urged the public to collaborate with the police force to ensure a safe festival and added that in order to prevent unexpected riots, the public must follow the laws and respect human rights.

Some critics say festivities in the past have gotten out of hand, with areas at the back of pavilions the scene at times of fornication, drug use and other illicit activities.

Rangoon’s Karen ethnic affairs minister Naw Pan Thin Zar Myo explained that the decision was made with the public in mind. It was intended to “prevent traffic, conserve water during El Nino season, and follow health warnings,” he said.

There were over 300 applications to construct pavilions along the Kabar Aye Pagoda and Kan roads this year.

But Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) department officer Than Hote said only 16 private applications had been transferred to the government on April 1, because the new government had announced that it would not allow large pavilions to be set up on public land.

The regional government said it would allow the central pavilions in four Rangoon districts, as well as uncensored versions of Thangyat [satirical songs that mock authority] during the festival. Thangyat was banned under military rule, and was allowed with censored text under the quasi-civilian government.

There have been mixed reactions to the government’s decision not to allow for-profit pavilions, because some companies have already received deposits from people who want to celebrate by dancing and throwing water from the stages.

While many agree with the chief minister’s decision, some teenagers and organizers complained on social media.

One ticket holder said, “[the organizer] said they would arrange something else for ticket holders who had already paid, but I don’t see that working.”

Si Thu, an organizer who helps arrange the construction of pavilions every year, didn’t build any this year, because building them on public spaces was not allowed.

“Some people rented private compounds on Pyay Road [the only road available to build large pavilions],” he said. “But the compound rental fee was about US$8,000-12,000 for the five days of Thingyan.

Reporters Tun Tun and May Soe San contributed to this report.