The Armenian government has acknowledged “shortcomings” in its controversial reform of the national pension system and offered to embark on a dialogue with a pressure group leading a vocal campaign against it.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian made the offer as he chaired a weekly session of his cabinet on Wednesday. “There are certainly shortcomings in those laws [regulating the reform] which are also cited by our opponents,” he said. “We are declaring that the right path is the path of dialogue and are inviting our young partners, representatives of the Dem Em (I’m Against) movement, to dialogue.”
“We are buoyed by the youth activism,” claimed Sarkisian. “Clearly, various political forces are trying to exploit it, but the fact that the young people refrain from politicizing the issue shows that the dialogue is very important for the future of our state.”
Sarkisian did not say what he regards as flaws in Armenia’s ongoing transition to a new pension system that will require workers born after 1973 to save for their own retirement. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Artem Asatrian similarly declined to specify what concrete concessions the government is ready to make when he spoke to reporters after the cabinet meeting.
Dem Em, which has staged a series of anti-government demonstrations since November, reacted very cautiously to the offer. A statement issued by the group insisted on the complete abolition of a reform provision requiring some 270,000 Armenians to transfer 5 percent of their gross salaries to private pension funds.
“We certainly welcome the prime minister’s proposal but since the matter is still dealt with by the Constitutional Court it would be wrong to discuss any laws now,” Davit Khazhakian, a Dem Em activist, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Thursday. The court is scheduled to open hearings next week on the constitutionality of the reform challenged by Armenia’s leading opposition parties.
“I think the authorities realized long ago that something is wrong with the law but didn’t speak up because they thought our movement will not gain momentum,” said Davit Musakhanian, another activist. “Now they can see that it is snowballing and are starting to explore cooperation with us.”
The two men spoke as they and scores of other young people drove through central Yerevan in a convoy of several dozen cars to promote their next major rally slated for Saturday. They temporarily halted traffic at two major squares in the city center. Unlike in the previous protests of this kind organized by Dem Em, police did not attempt to interfere with the procession.