Hundreds of people took to the streets of Yerevan on Tuesday as the opposition minority in Armenia’s parliament asked the Constitutional Court to scrap a controversial pension reform that would force them to pay more taxes.
The three opposition parties represented in the National Assembly as well as the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) lodged the appeal after the crowd joined by their senior representatives marched from the city’s Liberty Square to the nearby court building.
The four parties challenged the legality of the reform two weeks after the parliament’s pro-government majority rejected their proposal to postpone the upcoming entry into force of a corresponding government bill. They claim that the bill breaches, among other things, citizens’ property rights guaranteed by the Armenian constitution.
“Many young people are unemployed, while many of those who have jobs do not earn enough to meet their basic needs. They are now being told to pay more,” Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, told the protesters during a rally in Liberty Square.
“For once, the highest tribunal in our country must not play political games and must make a decision for the Republic of Armenia,” said the BHK’s Naira Zohrabian.
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, most of them young professionals, have demonstrated against it in recent weeks. “We are convinced that the law is unconstitutional,” one of them Davit Khazhakian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Tuesday.
President Serzh Sarkisian strongly defended the reform in televised remarks on Friday. Sarkisian told his government to be “much more active” in explaining its merits to the population.
The Constitutional Court has rarely struck down decisions made by Armenian state bodies. Parliament minority leaders as well as representatives of the protesting workers said they will continue campaigning against the controversial measure even if the court rejects the appeal.