The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) decided on Wednesday to rally supporters in Yerevan on September 17 for what some of its leaders say will be the start of a new push for leadership change in the country.
The decision was announced after a meeting of the HAK’s governing Political Council headed by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
“Relevant structures of the Congress were instructed to actively make preparations for the rally,” a spokesman for the alliance, Arman Musinian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “We have a lot to say, and there is a new [political] situation in the country,” he said.
Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator, said last week that the bloc plans to resume regular anti-government protests in order to step up pressure on the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian.
But Musinian could not say whether the September 17 rally will be a one-off event or mark the start of a new campaign of street protests. “Let’s not jump ahead of time,” he said. “I, you and the pubic will get an answer to this question in good time.”
The HAK has held only two major rallies this year, underlining Ter-Petrosian’s cautious strategy of taking on President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration. Addressing thousands of supporters in downtown Yerevan on March 1, Ter-Petrosian dismissed complaints from more radical opposition elements and said staging street protests too often only “lessens their impact.”
Armenia’s first president defended this stance at the next HAK rally held on April 6. He claimed that Sarkisian will eventually have to step down because of what he called mounting infighting within his governing coalition and international pressure over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The opposition bloc’s leadership also approved on Wednesday a program calling for a sweeping overhaul of Armenia’s state pension system. Vahagn Khachatrian, a member of an HAK task force that drew up the program, presented it as an alternative to pension reforms planned by the Armenian government.
The government plan envisages a gradual transition to a new system whereby the amount of monthly retirement benefits would depend, to a large extent, on employees’ lifetime social security contributions. It also allows for the establishment of private pension funds that would be able to invest that money abroad.
Khachatrian told RFE/RL that the HAK strongly objects to the latter provision and believes that Armenians’ pension savings should be mainly channeled into the domestic economy.
The HAK already publicized detailed programs on economic policy and reform of public healthcare earlier this year. The 15-page economic manifesto was praised by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian in March. He said the manifesto and his government’s reform program share “numerous common points.”
Khachatrian claimed, however, that the government has largely ignored the HAK proposals. “The government avoids attending discussions and expressing any opinion on our programs,” he said.