Opposition lawmakers slammed the Armenian government on Friday as the National Assembly debated its plans to relaunch an unpopular pension reform that was blocked by the country’s highest court in April.
Some of them singled out Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian, accusing him of reneging on his pledges to make the reform optional for Armenians aged 40 and younger.
“It is evident that this promise has not been fulfilled,” said Aghvan Vartanian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), referring to Abrahamian’s assurances made after he was appointed prime minister later in April.
“You are again going against the interests of at least 90 percent of the people,” Vartanian told government ministers present at an extraordinary parliament session that was called to discuss fresh amendments to Armenian legislation.
The amendments drafted by the government are supposed to address a Constitutional Court ruling that declared unconstitutional Armenia’s transition to a new retirement plan requiring workers to make additional pension contributions worth 5 percent of their gross wages. They would essentially change the official name of those taxes and make the reform optional for the private sector until July 2017. The reform would be mandatory for 65,000 or so public sector employees starting from next month.
“The mandatory component has simply changed its name,” said Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). Zurabian accused the authorities of acting like “pickpockets” and “vampires.”
Also opposed to the repackaged reform are the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest parliamentary force, as well as the opposition Zharangutyun and Orinats Yerkir parties. Orinats Yerkir was part of the government until April.
With the ruling Republican Party controlling most parliament seats, the opposition objections are unlikely to scuttle the passage of the government bill. The National Assembly is expected to vote on it on Saturday.
Speaking to journalists, Abrahamian defended the reform. “I think that it is a right step,” he said.
Abrahamian argued that the government has decided to raise public sector salaries from July 1 in order to offset the socioeconomic impact of extra social security payments. He said the government has set aside 38 billion drams ($92 million) for the pay rises.