Fed up with the soaring cost of living, the Iranian people are hitting back with a silent, and so far highly under-reported protest by refusing to pay their utility bills.
As temperatures soar, the Iranian government is so far keeping the lights on and the air-conditioning running, despite suggestions that vast numbers of people have stopped paying their bills. It’s hardly because the government is philanthropic, but rather they want to soothe tempers and prevent the protesters from taking to the streets. To date, the demonstration has been passive,
but as the world has witnessed before in Iran, it can easily become an active one.
Utility prices spiked drastically as a result of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Subsidy Smart Plan, which he announced in January, to dismantle a $100 billion government subsidy system that cost the Iranian government about a quarter of its GDP to stabilize food, fuel and electricity prices. As a result, gasoline prices have spiked by 75 percent and increased utility bills five times to 20 times the average, making basic electricity out of reach for up to 70 percent of Iranian families.
A Tehran resident posted online that her two-month bill increased from 80,000 rials (about $80) to 5 million rials ($5,000). ‘Out of every 10 people you ask, six to eight say they haven’t paid their bills,’ a blogger from Tehran wrote. ‘The government has promised to make monthly installments possible. But how do you do that for a monthly bill? How can those who can’t pay their gas bill this month pay it in the coming months?’ Apartment complexes frequently have one meter and one bill for the building, prompting unfriendly exchanges between neighbors who say they are conserving and refuse to pay for those who waste.
The exact extent of the boycott is unknown since the regime is ignoring the non-payments and very little media attention has been given to the issue. Citizens, however, are talking among themselves and even encouraging one another to stop paying the bills.
In fact, some believe that recently reported tensions between President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei over the arrest of Ahmadinejad’s political allies could be an attempt by the Iranian government to divert the people’s attention from the rising prices and steadily worsening economy.