Armenia: ruling party continues struggle against head of Constitutional Court
The ruling My Step party believes that the head of the Constitutional Court, Hrayr Tovmasyan, cannot be remain in his position.
Active steps to remove him from his post began with the appeal of the parliamentary majority to the Constitutional Court. The court refused to accept the appeal of the National Assembly, since it “does not comply with the established rules”.
The refusal of the Constitutional Court to consider the appeal of the National Assembly means that the head of the structure Hrayr Tovmasyan will continue to fulfill his obligations, and the case will not even reach a court hearing.
The parliamentary appeal alleged Tovmasyan has committed significant violations during the consideration of the statement of the ex-president of Armenia Robert Kocharyan on the constitutionality of the articles on which he was charged.
Kocharyan, the second president of Armenia, is accused of overthrowing the constitutional order and is under arrest.
The so-called March 1 case of 2008, in which the ex-president stands accused, is of particular importance for the new, post-revolutionary government of Armenia and is in the center of its attention.
The struggle for the removal of Tovmasyan from his post continues.
More on the head of the Constitutional Court and what he stands accused of below.
Two daughters of the head of the Constitutional Court were summoned to the National Security Service; the details of the conversation with them have not been disclosed.
National Security Service employees also visited his father at his home.
Tovmasyan’s father said that they stayed with him for about an hour, and asked questions elated to the construction of his house:
“They brought specialists with them to check when the roof was rebuilt. I agreed for them to carry out the check, that is all.”
NSS officers also raided the office of the former Republican Party, the ruling party in Armenia, of which Hrayr Tovmasyan was a member until 2015.
What is the head of the Constitutional Court accused of?
Armenian MP Arman Babajanyan lodged a criminal report with the Armenian Prosecutor General, referring to the “usurpation of power” by the head of the Constitutional Court. The MPclaims that Tovmasyan committed violations of the law upon assuming this position in 2018.
Babajanyan believes that the parliamentary powers of Hrayr Tovmasyan in 2018 were terminated not in accordance with the established procedure. Consequently, he could not occupy the post of head of the Constitutional Court.
On the basis of this report, the Special Investigation Service opened a criminal case on the basis of usurpation of power by a group of persons.
Unsuccessful attempt of the ruling party
Even before the statement of MP Arman Babajanyan, the ruling My Step party appealed to the Constitutional Court to have Tovmasyan ousted from his position.
However, the Constitutional Court refused to accept the appeal of the National Assembly.
The answer of the Constitutional Court states that the established procedure did not comply with in the appeal of the National Assembly.
The refusal of the Constitutional Court to consider the appeal of the National Assembly means that the head of the structure Hrayr Tovmasyan will continue to exercise his powers, and the case will not even reach a hearing for now.
Personally, Tovmasyan did not participate in the meeting. He stated that there is no struggle with the ruling party, but he is not going to leave his post:
“I will leave this post when the time allotted by law for my stay in this post ends.”
The ruling My Step party has not yet announced its next steps. Earlier, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan did not seize on the possibility of constitutional reforms that would allow the current composition and head of the Constitutional Court to be replaced.
On the initiative of the ruling bloc
The ruling faction My Step presented its bill to the National Assembly on September 19.
The document has almost 100 pages. It presents four grounds for the termination of the powers of the head of the Constitutional Court with reference to the legislation of Armenia and the precedents of international courts.
As stated in the bill of the ruling party, one of them includes significant violations committed by Tovmasyan during the consideration of the statement of the ex-president of Armenia Robert Kocharyan on the constitutionality of the articles on which he was charged.
The second president of Armenia is accused of overthrowing the constitutional order, and the judges of the Constitutional Court under the chairmanship of Hrayr Tovmasyan noted the inconsistency of one of the articles with the main law of the country.
The document also states that the adoption of this decision violated the principle of impartiality of the court – that is the membership of the President of the Constitutional Court in the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
During the RPA’s reign, Tovmasyan held various posts.
In 2010, he was appointed Minister of Justice, and in 2014 became the head of the apparatus of the National Assembly.
The reason for doubts about the impartiality of Tovmasyan was the coincidence of interests of the leader of the Republican Party, Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan, in the outcome of the criminal case “March 1” – the case in which ex-president of Armenia Robert Kocharyan stands accused.
The March 1 case concerns the events of 2008, when 10 people were killed during the dispersal of a demonstration, the protesters of which disagreed with the results of the recently-held presidential election.
According to the Central Election Commission, Serzh Sargsyan was elected, but Kocharyan was still the president at the time. Therefore, he is accused of the cruel dispersal with the use of military weapons and for the ensuing deaths.
The head of the ruling My Step faction Lilit Makunts believes that the submitted document is sufficient basis for the removal of the chairman of the court:
“According to our assessment, the legal grounds presented by our lawyers are quite substantial.”
Prosperous Armenia opposition faction did not agree with this. Its MPs refused to vote.
They explained their decision was not dictated by the identity of Hrayr Tovmasyan, but by the imperfection of the document:
“Our lawyers looked at the papers; they have violations of the deadlines and omissions in points. The main points are not legally proven, the arguments are very weak. And we came to the conclusion that we will not participate in the vote … And it is not up to the parliament to decide whether Hrayr Tovmasyan should stay or go,” said the leader of the faction, oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan.
In order for the project to be adopted, only 80 votes were needed, which the ruling bloc My Step already had. However, according to Makunts, “judicial reform, judicial independence, and credibility are the responsibility of other political forces as mandate holders.”
Tovmasyan himself did not appear for discussion, although he was invited.
Out of 132 deputies, 101 took part in the vote. 98 deputies voted “for” the termination of Tovmasyan’s powers and only 1 “against”. Two ballots were invalidated.
What is Hrayr Tovmasyan known for
In Armenia, not only the ruling party associates Hrayr Tovmasyan with the former government, but also many ordinary citizens.
Tovmasyan was a member of the Republican Party of Armenia and held a number of key posts.
He is known for penning the text of amendments to the constitution in 2015 – as a result of which in December a referendum took place which transformed Armenia from a presidential form of government to a parliamentary one.
Then the incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan publicly stated that he did not intend to occupy the highest post (the premiership) of the country. But in April 2018, when the parliamentary majority elected its leader Serzh Sargsyan as the new Prime Minister, his desire was confirmed to be in power again.
Prior to the amendments to the constitution, he had held the presidency for two terms and could not count on a third. The changes provided him with the opportunity to return to power – now as prime minister, that is, again in high office.
He resigned a few days after the election under the pressure of people who took to the streets in the days of the “velvet” revolution in the spring of 2018.
According to current PM Pashinyan, Tovmasyan wrote the text of the constitution “in agreement with Serzh Sargsyan … to remain the President of the Constitutional Court until 2035.”
“We need another Constitutional Court. It turns out that … Hrayr Tovmasyan, with the help of Serzh Sargsyan and Gagik Harutyunyan [the former head of the Constitutional Court – JAMnews] privatized the Constitutional Court as much as it is possible to privatize, say, a notary’s office. And today we have the reality that in Armenia in 2019 … we have the Constitutional Court of 1995”, said Pashinyan.