News 14 Feb 13

Macedonians Mull Referendum on Power Bills

Angered by repeated hikes in their utility bills, Macedonian activists are considering calling a referendum, after parliament on Wednesday rejected their petition.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The call for a referendum came after the ruling VMRO DPMNE party on Wednesday declined to support a petition submitted by the activist group Aman, which demands changes to the Energy Law that would effectively lower utility bills.

The petition contained 13,000 signatures collected over recent months.

“If need be, we will now start collecting signatures for a referendum… as we are not afraid of pressure,” said Petrit Saracini, from Aman.

To be able to demand a referendum by law, Aman needs to collect at least 150,000 signatures.

One change proposed by the group calls for reintroduction of so-called “off-peak” tariffs, which the government scrapped last year.

The tariff was especially useful to poorer people, allowing them to make use of given time frames for cheaper electricity.

Parliament comfortably rejected the petition on Wednesday. Some 49 legislators, mostly from the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party voted against it, 11 abstained and only four voted for.

MPs from the ruling parties said if they reintroduced the old benefits, the price of electricity would inevitably rise further, as the country depends on imports and thus cannot set power prices purely on its own accord.

The main opposition party's MPs were not present for the vote as the Social Democrats are currently boycotting parliament, pressing their demand for snap general elections.

The Aman initiative, which was formed last summer on social networks, has been staging regular weekly protests against recent hikes in utility bills.

The group estimates that electricity in Macedonia has become 56 per cent more expensive since 2008, and blames politicians for allowing repeated hikes.

Aman wants the state to adjust power price rises, taking into account low average monthly incomes of only 300 euro and a high unemployment rate of 30 per cent.

Last year, members of Aman found their rallies shadowed by mysterious parallel protests, which many suspected were government fronts.

The parallel protesters invariably blamed poor social conditions in Macedonia on the opposition Social Democrats, although they have not been in power since 2006.

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