Pension Protest: Thousands in Yerevan stage demo against unpopular reform

Pension Protest: Thousands in Yerevan stage demo against unpopular reform

Photolure

Several thousand people rallied in Yerevan’s Liberty Square and then marched through the Armenian capital’s central streets on Saturday in a show of protest against the mandatory nature of some of the provisions of a new pension law that are being disputed at the Constitutional Court.

These provisions, in particular, stipulate that all workers in Armenia born after 1973 must pay five to ten percent of their salaries to privately owned pension funds in addition to other social security payments made by their employers.

Members of the civil initiative called Dem.Am (I’m Against) insist that the mandatory component of the reform violates the country’s basic law and is, therefore, unacceptable. The pressure group expects the Constitutional Court, which is due to start considering the case on March 28, to rule against the law.

Representatives of all four non-governing parties which had filed a joint lawsuit against the pension law addressed the rally. Among them were Vahan Babayan of the Prosperous Armenia Party, Raffi Hovannisian, of Heritage, Artsvik Minasyan, of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), as well as members of the Armenian National Congress’s parliamentary faction Nikol Pashinyan and Hrant Bagratyan. All of them, while trying to emphasize that they were in the square as citizens to speak against the pension reform, also leveled harsh criticism at the government over failed policies in different spheres.

In his speech, Pashinyan, in particular, focused on President Serzh Sargsyan’s admission that 80 percent of Armenia’s population was against the pension reform, stressing that it showed that a “privileged” minority dictates its will to the majority in Armenia. And Bagratyan described it as a Guinness world record that in Armenia under the new pension law citizens would be “lending” money for more than 40 years.

Heritage party leader Hovannisian, meanwhile, urged Dem.am activists to regroup into a broader movement for the future of Armenia regardless of the outcome of the Court proceedings in the case in question.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan voiced readiness of the government to start negotiations with the activists who oppose the law. Dem.am members said while they were ready for dialogue in principle, they would not compromise on their demand for the mandatory component of the law to be removed.

One of Dem.am leaders David Manukyan warned that if the Constitutional Court endorsed the law as constitutional it would itself become responsible for the consequences. Another leading member of the group Gevorg Gorgisyan said that those opposed to the law could resort to civil disobedience, including such nonstandard methods of showing their civil protest as refusing to pay utility bills or cashing out all bank accounts at once.

The rally ended in a rap song against the unpopular reform and a march towards Republic Square and back.