By Zin Linn
Intolerant for electricity-power shortages, demonstrators have taken to the streets in several towns in Burma this week, including former capital Rangoon and ancient capital Mandalay, as citizens test the limit of democratic changes, warning the one-year old quasi-civilian government to take responsibilities for its incompetent management.
After standing by the protests for a few days, police cracked down on a gathering in the town of Pyi in Bago Division, where at least five protesters had faced temporary incarceration. In Mandalay, many members of the National League for Democracy, which is led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, were temporarily held for questioning.
In one Reuters news report, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said it was important for Burma (Myanmar) as a 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.
Burmese people have been suffering from power shortages for more than two decades. Although the military-dominated regime gains a large sum of hard currency by exporting the natural gas to neighbouring countries, it has neglected to share the indispensable 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 its export incomes. Significantly the public sector (health, education, sanitation, clean water, electricity etc) has never benefitted from the country’s natural gas export earnings.
For instance, it obtained US$2.947 billion in the first 11 months of the fiscal year 2011-12, up about US$424.77 from US$2.522 billion in 2010-11. Natural gas export earning stood at US$2.926 billion in 2009-10, up from US$2.384 in 2008-09, according to the Flower News Journal. But, amazingly, these natural gas export net earnings are never transferred to the budget and never used for social and infrastructure development, especially in ethnic minority regions.
Meanwhile, news from Xinhua says that China will encourage its enterprises to discuss cooperation on upgrading Myanmar’s power grid in order to help ease power shortages in the country, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a routine press conference Thursday.
Anti-blackout Protesters accused the current government of selling energy resources to China, which, they articulate, has led to frequent power cuts in the resource-rich country.
Burma’s military-backed quasi-civilian government has cautioned the protestors against power shortages to abide by the law. Remarkably, the 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.
In a press statement dated 21 May 2012 by the Kachin Development Networking Group, Chinese media last week revealed that the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) is currently conducting an “independent” inspection of the Irrawaddy Myitsone dam, being built by China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), to prove that the dam is completely safe and beneficial.
Such a study would be a major boost in CPI’s bid to push ahead with the suspended project. According to Xu Zeping of the Chinese Committee on Large Dams, a member of ICOLD, the Myitsone project “is currently under third-party inspection in order to drive out people’s doubts.” – KDNG’s statement says. http://kachinlandnews.com/?p=21817
In 2011 September, President Thein Sein’sgovernment suspended a controversial $3.6 billion hydroelectric power project which has faced objections from various social strata nationwide.
The 500-foot dam has been under construction at the confluence of the Mali Hka River and N’Mai Hka River, 27 miles north of the Kachin capital of Myitkyina. Construction at Myitsone began on December 21, 2009, led by China’s state owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) in cooperation with Burma’s Asia World Company (AWC) and the Burmese government’s No. 1 Ministry of Electric Power.
Nevertheless, China’s lobbying for Myitsone dam project may not be agreed by the majority population of Burma since the Irrawaddy River is not only the lifeline of the country but also it is the most important reason for environmental devastation. As the majority of Burmese citizens opposed the massive dam project, the current president decided to suspend it. The president’s decision seems to have avoided a nationwide protest in time.
On the other hand, Burma’s Nobel laureate and opposition party leader Aung San Suu Kyi gave speeches this week at the opening ceremonies of three NLD’s Township offices in downtown Rangoon.
“I am fond of peaceful protest news I observed on the radio that Mandalay citizens launched a protest holding candles,” she said.
“They protest as they need electricity. Power shortage takes place in this country for so many years due to policy error. However, it is impossible to revise the situation within a short period. But, people have their right to protest for their need. So, I support peaceful protest,” Suu Kyi said.
Some analysts think that if the government neglected to address the issue of the power cuts, it could change into a mass demonstration within a few months because it is directly interrelated with the large corruption cases in various power development projects run by high-ranking officials.