Pay your utility bill, Myanmar soldiers say, or pay with your life

“In the past 10 months, the country has lost all of its gains from the past 10 years,” said U Hein Maung, an economist in Myanmar. “The costs of doing business have risen significantly. There is a thriving informal economy of drug trafficking, illegal logging, money laundering and other illegal businesses.”

A drop in electricity payments, as well as in tax revenues and international development aid, has cost the regime about a third of the revenues the previous government received, he said.

Many public services, such as health care and schools, are barely functioning and the regime has shut down many long-term programs that rely on state funding, such as infrastructure projects.

“They are in zombie mode,” Mr. Hein Maung said. “They function in the minimum feasible way.”

Nevertheless, the military is in a better position than the public to face the downturn.

“The military has its own companies and banks,” he said. “They can survive despite the fact that everything else has collapsed. And of course they have the weapons.”

The government of Myanmar’s shadow opposition National Unity Government has urged the public to stop paying for electricity. In September, it said 97 percent of people in Mandalay and 98 percent in Yangon had done so, costing the regime $1 billion at the time.

Ko Si Thu Aung, 24, who sells vintage clothing online, had not paid his bill for the civil disobedience movement since February. But on Christmas Day, soldiers came to his house and cut the power cable. After two days without electricity, he decided he had no choice.

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