Hundreds of mostly young Armenians again took to the streets of Yerevan on Thursday to protest against a controversial pension reform that will effectively lower their wages.
Armenia’s four main political parties challenging the government, meanwhile, discussed ways of blocking the government reform strongly opposed by them.
The demonstrators, many of them well-paid professionals working for information technology firms, rallied outside the Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s office during a weekly session of his cabinet. “This law will have extremely bad consequences,” one of their leaders declared through a megaphone.
“It will worsen the socioeconomic plight of people because their wages will shrink and people won’t be able to meet their basic needs,” he said. “People are not confident that the money which they are supposed to get back in the form of pensions will materialize.”
The protesters want the authorities to scrap or delay the entry into force of a bill that requires working citizens born after 1973 to transfer at least 5 percent of their income to private pension funds in addition to social security taxes paid by their employers.
The measure, which is due to take effect on January 1, is part of Armenia’s ongoing transition to a new pension system whereby the amount of retirement benefit will depend in the future on workers’ lifelong financial contributions. The government says the existing pay-as-you-go system is not sustainable. Officials made clear earlier this week that it will not bow to pressure from the affected citizens and the opposition.
The three opposition parties represented in the National Assembly as well as the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party tried to force an emergency parliament debate on the reform late last week. The parliament majority controlled by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) thwarted the planned session by boycotting it.
Parliament minority leaders said on Thursday that they will continue challenging the reform and are now discussing various options. Those include another attempt to have the parliament discuss the matter, an appeal to the Constitutional Court and even a demand for a national referendum. According to Elinar Vartanian, a senior BHK lawmaker, no agreement has been reached so far.
“If nothing changes, many citizens of Armenia will earn less in January than in December,” said Aghvan Vartanian, a former labor minister leading the parliamentary faction of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), claimed that the government has no mandate to pursue an economic policy of “shock therapy.” “Nobody trusts this government,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).