Thousands took to the streets in the Armenian capital Yerevan on January 18, in protest against pension reforms carried out by the government at the start of the year.
Around 6,000 demonstrators gathered in Yerevan's central Liberty Square. The reform sees all Armenian employees born since 1974 forced to contribute 5% of their salaries to private pension funds. Opponents have called for that portion of the new system to be scrapped.
Activists have also voiced suspicion that contributions will be mismanaged. "A government racket has come into force that allows the authorities to put their hands into people's pockets," Prosperous Armenia Party MP Naira Zohrabyan said in an address to the demonstration, according to AFP.
The scheme was previously introduced on a voluntary base, but was made compulsory from January 1. The government says demographic trends made the previous pensions system unsustainable.
A report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Armenia and the Armenian Ministry of Labor and Social Issues released in October warned that Armenia already has a rapidly growing proportion of elderly people among its population. Longer life expectancy, a falling birthrate and a high level of emigration are all contributing factors. Currently, around 14.4% of the population is over 60; however, that is expected to reach 31.5% by 2050.
A series of protests in the second half of 2013 failed to persuade the government to postpone the reform, and an opposition bill on the issue was voted down in the parliament on December 4. However, protests continue, and a growing number of politicians have spoken out, including former president Robert Kocharyan.
Hitting back at his criticism, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Artem Asatryan claims that Kocharyan actually got the ball rolling. He called Kocharyan the "godfather" of mandatory private pensions in an interview on January 17.
"It can be tallied retrospectively how much our citizens would lose from crises if we [had] introduced the obligatory accumulative pension system in 2005 ... I couldn't palm off with apologies, for sure. And crises are coming periodically, and, as a rule, emerge when nobody expects them," Kocharyan said according to ARKA.
Opponents have also voiced concerns of corruption, although the government has sought to allay fears by selecting two European firms, through an international tender process, to manage the funds. The flows will now pass to Amundi, which was set up by French banks Credit Agricole and Societe Generale, and Cologne-based Talanx Asset Management.
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