President Serzh Sarkisian on Friday defended an ongoing controversial reform of Armenia’s pension system and told his government to be “much more active” in explaining its merits to the population.
Sarkisian welcomed the passage earlier this year of a relevant government bill that has sparked street protests in Yerevan in recent weeks. “I would like all those who consider the reform useful to be much more active,” he said at a meeting with senior officials from the Armenia Ministry of Economy.
The bill, effective from January 1, will require Armenians under the age of 40 to pay more social security taxes. The unpopular measure stems from Armenia’s transition to a new system whereby the amount of pensions will depend on workers’ lifelong contributions to pension funds.
Hundreds of people have demonstrated against it in recent weeks. Armenia’s leading opposition groups have backed their demands, saying that the reform is unfair as it will cut the real incomes of scores of people. They plan to ask the Constitutional Court to declare it unconstitutional.
Sarkisian accused opponents of the reform of spreading “fairy tales” and blamed the existing pay-as-you-go system for the modest amount of pensions paid to hundreds of thousands of elderly Armenians. “Frankly, I often feel embarrassed and ashamed and even think that it’s now time to apologize to those people,” he said. “We must solve this problem so that future state officials do not have to also apologize.”
The street protests have mostly involved young and well-paid professionals employed in Armenia’s information technology sectors. They have vowed to continue fighting against the government measure.