Members of an Armenian civil group campaigning against an unpopular pension reform have threatened to resort to civil disobedience as a means of struggle unless their demand for scrapping the controversial law is met by the government.
Dem.am, an organization embracing mostly young activists who have been pressing for the change since late last year, organized another demonstration in central Yerevan on Saturday, less than a week before the Constitutional Court is due to start considering the claim by Armenia’s leading opposition parties against several provisions of the law.
These provisions, in particular, stipulate that all working citizens in Armenia born after 1973 pay five to ten percent of their salaries to private pension funds in addition to other social security payments made by their employers on the understanding that they will be able to use their accumulated contributions when they reach the retirement age, which is set at 63 for both men and women in Armenia. Many young people, 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.
Several thousand people gathered in Yerevan’s Liberty Square today to hear leading activists of the civil group voicing their strong opposition to the reform and urging the Constitutional Court to ensure justice when it starts hearing the case on March 28. The civil group believes the disputed provisions of the law must be recognized as unconstitutional.
Gevorg Gorgisian, a leading member of Dem.am, spoke about the possibility of confronting the government with civil disobedience. “Unpredictability has been our trump card throughout this struggle, and it will continue to be one,” the young activist said. “It is quite possible that as forms of civil disobedience we will use refusal to cooperate with the authorities, we can also pay utility bills with delay or refuse to pay them at all… There is another option. On one day all of us can cash our money kept in all banks. We have plenty of such options in our arsenal.”
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian offered a dialogue to members of the civil movement, acknowledging that there could be some shortcomings in the pension law. Dem.am, however, reacted very cautiously to the offer. A statement issued by the group insisted on the complete abolition of the reform provision requiring some 270,000 Armenians to make additional contributions to private pension funds.
In his speech at the rally Artsvik Minasian, a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), one of the four parliamentary parties opposed to the pension reform, also emphasized that the movement should not compromise on its demand to scrap the compulsory element of the law.
Representatives of the other political parties also addressed the rally. Heritage party leader Raffi Hovannisian said that all opposition parties in and outside the parliament, civil initiatives, protesting war veterans and young activists should realize the need for action. “No matter how correctly the Dem.am movement has been acting so far, now it is on the threshold of transformation. Whatever the Court decision on March 28 is, we should be ready to lower all banners and hold only one, our tricolor,” Hovannisian underscored.
Vahan Babayan, a representative of the Prosperous Armenia Party, which positions itself as an alternative to the current government, also delivered a spirited speech, leveling harsh criticism at the government. He called on everyone to join the Dem.am movement. “We are convinced that it is not only this pension reform that our people oppose. Our people have run out of patience. Let the officials now watching us online see how united the Armenian people are here today,” said Babayan, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Among those who made speeches at the rally were also opposition lawmakers Nikol Pashinian and Hrant Bagratian, as well as opposition activist, prominent Karabakh war veteran Jirair Sefilian. All of the speakers welcomed the civil movement, at the same time criticizing the government over its policies in various spheres.
The rally ended in a march staged by movement activists and supporters in central streets of Yerevan.