Hundreds of mostly young people rallied in Yerevan on Thursday to demand that the Armenian authorities stop enforcing a controversial reform of the national pension system that was suspended by the Constitutional Court late last month.
The court froze the entry into force of a relevant government-drafted law at least until its ruling on an appeal lodged by Armenia’s four main opposition parties. It is scheduled to open hearings on the appeal on March 28.
The court order led to differing interpretations, however, with many state agencies and private firms continuing to deduct an extra 5-10 percent of the monthly wages of their employees born after 1973. The money has to be invested in private pension funds in accordance with the highly unpopular measure approved by the Armenian parliament late last year.
The protesters, most of them young professionals affected by the reform, accused the government of ignoring the Constitutional Court’s decision as they marched to key government buildings in central Yerevan. They said that employers are being forced by tax authorities to collect the extra social security taxes.
“The authorities distrust the Constitutional Court. Government representatives are worried that the Constitutional Court could once again make such a decision,” said Meri Khachatrian, a member of the Dem Em (I Am Against) pressure group campaigning against the reform.
The protesters were joined by Raffi Hovannisian, the leader of the Zharangutyun party who was the main opposition candidate in the February 2013 presidential election. “At stake is the future of our young citizens,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The government has repeatedly defended the ongoing transition to a new pension system that will tie the size of Armenians’ future retirement benefits to their lifelong social security contributions. They say that the reform is urgently needed given Armenia’s aging population and other demographic problems.
“Rest assured that these reforms will produce positive results years later. We can’t live only in the present,” Eduard Sharmazanov, the 39-year-old spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), insisted on Thursday.
Sharmazanov said that the continuing protests against the reform are natural. “Can you show me a democratic country where one or another segment of the society is not unhappy with any law?” he told reporters.
“Of course it’s a painful reform,” he said. “All reforms are painful. But we believe that the pension reform provides a systemic solution.”