Deputies from Armenia’s leading opposition parties scuttled on Wednesday a parliament session that was expected to result in a relaunch of the government’s controversial pension reform.
The National Assembly did not make a quorum after its opposition minority failed to report for the extraordinary session initiated by the government. Some deputies from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) did not show up for other reasons.
The HHK-controlled parliament will on Thursday try to again debate and pass government-drafted amendments that would make Armenia’s ongoing transition to a new and unpopular national retirement plan mandatory for all workers born after 1973.
Parliamentary leaders of the four opposition parties represented in the legislature played up the development as they emerged from the parliament building to address dozens of activists of the Dem Em movement demonstrating against the reform.
“I don’t know if they will again put the bill to the vote tomorrow,” said Levon Zurabian of the Armenian National Congress (HAK). “They are now busy rounding up their deputies. This is the first time that the majority failed to push through its bill.”
“This demonstrates that we can seriously fight against them,” added Zurabian.
“The quartet has once again demonstrated that it is united,” said Mikael Melkumian of the Prosperous Armenia Party. “We are going to achieve our goals step by step,”
The oppositionists were asked by the protesters what they will do if the government succeeds in pushing its controversial bill through the parliament. “If we fail to block this bill we will naturally have to work with you on a new bill,” said Artsvik Minasian, a deputy from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and a vocal critic of the pension reform.
The protesters booed pro-government deputies entering the building and chanted “Shame!” as they began the demonstration earlier in the day. Dem Em leaders made clear that the pressure group will continue its campaign despite the fact that the reform will be optional for private sector worker until July 2017. The government wants to start collecting mandatory extra pension contributions from public sector employees as early next month.
The vast majority of young Armenians who have participated in anti-government rallies staged by Dem Em in recent months work for private firms.