The Armenian authorities remain convinced that their controversial pension reform is necessary but are ready to reconsider some of its details, parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian said on Tuesday.
Abrahamian insisted that Armenia’s ongoing transition to a new pension system, which will require workers to contribute much more to their future retirement benefits, is based on a “brilliant idea.”
“We are not enemies of our people,” he told reporters. “We want to carry out good reforms. If there are shortcomings in those reforms, if there is need to amend them, we are ready to discuss that.”
Abrahamian referred to President Serzh Sarkisian’s remarks on the issue made on February 15. Sarkisian again strongly defended the unpopular reform, saying that continuing protests against it will not force his government to back down. He said the government could only change provisions of a corresponding law that was passed by the Armenian parliament late last year.
Neither Sarkisian nor Abrahamian specified what exactly the authorities are ready to amend. “We have not received such a proposal,” the speaker said. “But if there is need for changes we will be ready [to consider them.]”
Armenia’s four main opposition parties challenged the constitutionality of the reform in a joint appeal to the Constitutional Court lodged in December. The court is scheduled to open hearings on the appeal on March 28.
The Armenian pension reform has been endorsed by the United States, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. John Heffern, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, voiced strong support for the measure in a speech last week.
“I’ll stick with that statement,” Heffern said on Tuesday. He stood by his view that the existing pension system is not sustainable.
The U.S. stance prompted strong criticism from the Dem.am pressure group campaigning against the reform. One of its leaders, Davit Manukian, accused Heffern of meddling in Armenia’s internal affairs and trying to prejudge the Constitutional Court ruling on the matter. “He should not express an opinion on an internal Armenian issue because that’s not just his personal opinion, it’s an official [U.S.] position,” Manukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Heffern said he is aware of the criticism. “My response has been for both sides, both points of view to listen to each other,” he told journalists.