Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian made a surprise appearance on Friday at a meeting of the parliamentary leaders of Armenia’s main opposition parties to again discuss with them uncertainty surrounding the government’s controversial pension reform.
Abrahamian reaffirmed afterwards a “de facto suspension” of the reform that was announced by him on Wednesday. “I stand by all of my statements,” he told journalists.
However, a corresponding government bill submitted to the National Assembly does not explicitly require tax authorities to stop collecting extra social security contributions deducted from the monthly wages of workers born after 1973. Abrahamian pledged to scrap this “mandatory component” of the reform in line with a recent Constitutional Court ruling.
The bill was discussed on Friday at a meeting of the Armenian parliament’s committee on social affairs. Its pro-government chairman, Hakob Hakobian, confirmed that the proposed legislation allows the authorities to continue enforcing the highly unpopular measure that has sparked street protests in Yerevan in recent months. This led opposition members of the committee to accuse the recently appointed premier of not honoring his pledge.
Abrahamian declined to comment on the apparent discrepancy between his statement and the government bill as he emerged from the separate meeting with the leaders of the parliament’s four minority factions. He said only that the government will look into alternative legal amendments proposed by the opposition minority. Those call for a complete halt to Armenia’s ongoing transition to a new pension system.
“Frankly, Hovik Abrahamian’s visit was very unexpected for us,” said Stepan Markarian, a senior deputy from the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) who took part in the meeting also attended by two other government members. “They presented their views and we presented ours.”
According to Markarian, Abrahamian promised to alter the government bill in order to address the opposition concerns. He warned that the BHK and the three other opposition forces will seek an emergency parliament session on their own bill if those changes stop short of really freezing the reform.