In a surprise public appearance, former Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian addressed on Wednesday hundreds of young people who again rallied in Yerevan to protest against a controversial pension reform initiated by his government.
The crowd blocked a major street opposite the Finance Ministry building in the city center for more than two hours, demanding a meeting with Finance Minister Davit Sargsian. It said he must explain why tax authorities have continued enforcing the reform even after it was declared unconstitutional by Armenia’s Constitutional Court last.
“Our employers do not know how to proceed,” one of the protesters told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “So we are here to not only defend our rights but also show support for our employers so that they don’t have to pay fines because of us.”
Tigran Sarkisian took the protesters by surprise when he arrived at the scene and urged them to discuss the matter inside the ministry building. “Please come with us to the Finance Ministry hall,” he said through a megaphone. “Up to a hundred people can fit in there. Let’s discuss your issues there. We cannot discuss legislative changes on the street.”
The crowd responded with boos and jeers. “So what do you want?” the ex-premier asked before leaving the scene. He refused to answer questions from journalists.
Davit Manukian, a leader of the Dem Em (I Am Against) pressure group campaigning against the reform said the authorities should comply with the Constitutional Court ruling handed down on April 2. He said that means the State Revenue Committee must stop forcing employers to withhold 5 percent of gross wages paid to workers born after 1973.
The court ruled that the mandatory payments, which are due to be channeled into private pension funds, run counter to the Armenian constitution. However, its tricky verdict at the same time gave the authorities until September 30 to correct this and other provisions deemed unconstitutional.
The court chairman, Gagik Harutiunian, clarified afterwards that the pension reform can be enforced in the meantime. Sarkisian emphasized this as he chaired his last cabinet session on April 3.
This official interpretation of the verdict is disputed by some legal experts as well as Armenia’s four main opposition parties that challenged the constitutionality of the reform in the court in December. In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, their parliamentary factions complained that “ambiguous wordings enable the authorities continue to arbitrarily enforce the mandatory payments.” They also urged public and private entities not to deduct corresponding sums from wages without workers’ consent.