Russia’s Lower House Approves Pension Age Hike

Putin’s silence leads to heavy criticism, harking back to his earlier pledge to not raise the eligibility level.

Russian protests fell on deaf ears Thursday as the Kremlin approved changes to its pension system.

Next year, the new retirement age will be raised to 65 for men (from 60) and 63 for women (from 55), and given the country’s low life expectancy (65 for men and 76 for women), many will never see retirement—let alone the benefits. Regardless, the Russian government said an age hike was inevitable as payouts under the old benefits rules are too costly for its finances.

The increase will not affect current beneficiaries. It will take effect gradually over 15 years.

The bill passed in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house, in its first reading, with 327 lawmakers voting in favor and 102 against. After public comment, the measure will return for a second reading and another vote by the Duma.

Labor Minister Maxim Topilin, a supporter of the bill, told parliament the old pension laws were “stuck in the 1930s,” as today’s economy and life expectancy are very different from that period. Topilin told Russian news organization Tass that Russia will allocate 3 trillion rubles ($47.2 billion) to the pension program over six years.

 Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has not yet given a public statement on the reform. Lawmakers were told not to criticize the president during the discussion, Russian news outlet Vedomosti reported.

The age hike is the first in almost 90 years, creating a mass of Putin-bashing from citizens and political parties alike. Some of these groups include the Communists, Liberal Democratic Party, and A Just Russia, an anomaly as the three parties usually comply with the Kremlin while in disagreement with each other. More than 80% of Russians oppose the reform, and more than 2.8 million people have signed a petition to pull it, the French news agency AFP reports.

The pension protests have also caused Putin’s approval rating to plummet to an all-time low. Critics cite his pledge in 2005, during his second presidential term, that there would be no benefits age increases “while I am president.”  The VTsIOM state pollster says Putin’s approval ratings dropped 14 percentage points in roughly two weeks, from 78% to 64%.

Communist lawyer Oleg Smolin told the media that Putin needs to take a stance on the crucial law.

“This is one of the most important laws in the last 14 years. It cannot be debated without such an important person in our political life,” he said.

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