By Irina Hovannisian
In a move certain to be linked with the approaching presidential election, the Armenian government approved on Thursday a 60 percent surge in modest pensions paid to hundreds of thousands of elderly citizens.
A government statement said they will receive an average of about 20,000 drams ($60) per month starting from January 1.
“The decision did not come all of a sudden,” Vazgen Khachikian, director of the state pension fund, told RFE/RL. He said Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s coalition cabinet envisaged the drastic increase in its five-year policy program approved by parliament in June.
The increase will take effect on the eve of the 2008 presidential election in which Sarkisian will be a top contender. Pensioners make up a considerable part of Armenia’s electorate and usually vote in large numbers. Pension rises approved by the government until now were far more modest.
Khachikian, who is a member of Sarkisian’s Republican Party, insisted that the latest measure is not aimed at inducing pensioners to vote for the Armenian premier. “There is no need to look for black cats in a dark room, especially if they are not there,” he said, adding that the government plans to gradually raise the average pension to at least 36,000 drams by 2012.