The head of the Constitutional Court is the government’s main target in its newest attempt at dealing with the body’s connections to the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia
The National Assembly of Armenia is set to pass a bill that will offer current judges of the country’s Constitutional Court a life-long pension equal to their current salaries if they accept early retirement.
The bill, passed in its first reading earlier today on December 10 and likely to pass in its second reading tomorrow given its support by the ruling party’s parliamentary majority, is the authorities’ newest attempt to change the composition of the judicial body, which has proven problematic for the new authorities since the change of power in spring 2018.
The ruling My Step party is particularly interested in the resignation of the head of the Constitutional Court, Hrayr Tovmasyan, who is tightly connected to the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
MPs of the ruling My Step party recently attempted to have Tovmasyan removed from his position as chairman, but their appeal was dismissed by the Constitutional Court itself which claimed the motion “did not comply with the established procedure.”
The bill establishes a two-month timeframe after its entering into force, within which if members of the Constitutional Court take redundancy they will be given a pension equal to their current salaries of more than $2,000 per month.
The bill’s proponents hope the law will convince judges to leave their posts out of financial interest.
Constitutional Court remains outpost of old guard
The fight for control of the Constitutional Court in Armenia began immediately after the election of a new parliament in December 2018, in which revolutionary leader Nikol Pashinyan and his My Step party came to power.
Considering Tovmasyan’s ties to the former authorities, Pashinyan’s government said the former was ‘incapable of making fair and legal decisions.’
A member of the Republican Party of Armenia and the country’s former minister of justice, Tovmasyan is known for penning the text of amendments to the country’s constitution, for which a referendum was held in December 2015 and which ultimately transformed Armenia from a semi-presidential republic into a parliamentary one.
In April 2018, Serzh Sargsyan reneged on his statement made at the time of the referendum that he would not seek to become the country’s prime minister, which was important given he had already spent two terms as president and could thus not run for a third term per the country’s laws at the time.
Public outrage at Sargsyan’s move triggered the protests that led to the Velvet Revolution.
Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan says that Hrayr Tovmasyan “wrote the text of the constitution in agreement with Serzh Sargsyan…to remain the chair of the Constitutional Court until 2035.”
“We need another Constitutional Court. It turns out that … Hrayr Tovmasyan with the help of Serzh Sargsyan […] privatized the Constitutional Court in a way that one might privatize a notary’s office. And today, though in Armenia it is 2019 … we have a Constitutional Court from 1995,” Pashinyan stated.
Opposition votes against, calls bill ‘legal bribe to judges’
The parliamentary opposition factions of Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia came out against the bill, disagreeing with the selected method of trying to remove Tovmasyan and similar judges.
The parties have called the bill ‘unconstitutional’, ‘politically motivated’ and ‘a legal bribe to judges.’
Prosperous Armenia MP Naira Zohrabyan was particularly incensed by the suggestion of the use of financial incentive to solve the problem.
“…criminals who, at a bare minimum, should be burned as heretics, are to be rewarded as elite pensioners? …chief heretic Tovmasyan will receive 1.3 million drams [more than $2700] and the remaining small heretics will receive one million each? Prosperous Armenia will vote against this bill”, Zohrabyan said.