A controversial pension reform will continue to be enforced for now despite being declared unconstitutional by Armenia’s highest court, the government made clear on Thursday amid a renewed uproar from the opposition.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian pointed to a loophole in the Constitutional Court ruling that gave the Armenian authorities until September 30 to correct the unconstitutional provisions of the reform.
“If am not mistaken, that means the law, as it was adopted by the National Assembly, must remain valid until September 30, and we must revise the provisions declared unconstitutional by September 30,” Sarkisian said at a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “You are right, Mr. Prime Minister,” confirmed Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian.
“That means everyone must be guided by existing law in the meantime,” continued Sarkisian. Employers should therefore continue withholding 5 percent of their young workers’ gross wages and transfer those sums to two private pension funds in addition to their existing social security contributions, he said.
The Constitutional Court ruling handed down on Wednesday is vague about the enforcement of the wage deductions mandated by the reform. Nor has the court issued any explanatory notes on that score.
One of its judges, Felix Tokhian, added to the confusion with contradictory statements made in two televised appearances late on Wednesday. Tokhian told the Armnews channel that it would be “reckless” to continue implementing a measure that contradicts the Armenian constitution. But speaking to another private TV station, Shant, later in the evening, he said the workers born after 1973 are “obliged to make payments until September 30.”
This interpretation sparked outrage among opposition lawmakers who had appealed to the court to declare the reform null and void and believe that their demands were met on Wednesday. One of them, Nikol Pashinian, suggested that the court is acting on government orders. “If a member of the Constitutional Court makes differing statements on his own decisions, that may mean that he was not the one who actually made that decision,” Pashinian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Naira Zohrabian, another lawmaker, claimed that Tokhian and other judges were confused by those orders. “There is already talk of pressure on the Constitutional Court,” she said.
The government’s stance was also denounced by leaders of the Dem Em (I Am Against) pressure group campaigning against Armenia’s transition to a new system that requires workers to accumulate most of their future retirement benefits. They urged employers and affected Armenians to ignore the official interpretation of the court verdict. “The fight is going on,” one of them told a news conference. “We have not yet achieved a final victory."