Armenia’s top lawmaker has acknowledged “shortcomings” in the controversial law on the national pension system, promising that changes will be made in it.
Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamian, however, stressed on Monday that the authorities were not acting under pressure because of continuing public protests and that they expected debate on the matter.
“We find that the law does have some shortcomings and there will be a legislative change. But it won’t be under pressure, but as part of debate. If we see some omissions in the law, we will address them by all means. It has nothing to do with pressure,” said Abrahamian, a senior member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
The Dem.am civil initiative held a rally in Liberty Square, Yerevan, Armenia, 22 March 2014
The remarks came just two days after thousands of members and supporters of an Armenian civil group campaigning against the unpopular pension reform held another public rally in Yerevan, threatening to resort to civil disobedience as a means of struggle unless their demand for scrapping the controversial law was met by the government.
Representatives of several opposition and non-governing parties also took part in the rally, leveling harsh criticism at the government over what they described as a disgraceful piece of legislation.
Under several provisions of the law, which are now being disputed at the Constitutional Court, all working citizens in Armenia born after 1973 must pay five to ten percent of their salaries to private pension funds in addition to other social security payments made by their employers. They will be able to use their accumulated funds when they reach the retirement age, which is set at 63 for both men and women in Armenia.
Many young Armenians, including those in high-paying jobs, are skeptical about the reform as they do not trust either the government or the private funds to manage their savings for such a long period of time. Besides, many regard the compulsory nature of the law as a major violation of the Constitution.
At the same time, leading activists of the Dem.am civic initiative have made it clear that while they are ready in principle to engage in discussions, they are not going to compromise on their main demand for the compulsory element of the law to be abolished. This is their response to an earlier offer from Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian to embark on a dialogue around the controversial law.
Speaking at the weekly session of his Cabinet last Wednesday, Sarkisian also acknowledged “shortcomings” in the law. He also hailed the fact that Dem.am activists refrained from politicizing the issue despite “attempts by various political forces to exploit it”.
Asked whether the authorities are also ready to discuss the compulsory component of the law, Parliament Speaker Abrahamian said: “We are ready to do that.”
The discussions around the pension reform in Armenia are unfolding against the background of another major initiative in which four minority factions in the parliament prepare a motion of no-confidence in the government.
The Prosperous Armenia Party, the Armenian National Congress, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Heritage have agreed on putting the motion on the parliament agenda at the start of the next session on April 28.
Abrahamian refused to comment on the initiative until the motion formally appears on the agenda.
Earlier, other senior members of the HHK challenged the wisdom of the move given the absolute majority that the party enjoys in the legislature.