Armenian gov’t proposes referendum on Constitutional Court to solve stand off
The ruling My Step faction in the Armenian parliament proposed a bill to parliament on February 6, according to which the powers of the chairman of the Constitutional Court and members of the higher court would be terminated.
This is the latest move in the months-long stand off between court chair Hrayr Tovmasyan and the authorities, who claim the former is too closely associated with the past Republican Party of Armenia government to be considered unbiased and fit for the role.
However, the bill failed – by design. The entire parliamentary opposition opposed, and all 88 ruling My Step MPs abstained, despite having enough votes to pass the bill.
In doing so, the bill can now be put to a national referendum and bypass the say of the Constitutional Court.
Avoiding the constitutional court
The bill was never meant to pass in parliament; had it, it would have had to go through the Constitutional Court for. Instead, according to the third paragraph of Article 202 of the Constitution, the ruling faction will propose the bill be put to a referendum.
The bill seeks to remove from office the chairman and those members of the Constitutional Court who were elected under the previous government, up until April 9, 2018.
The Armenian media also drew attention to the fact that, according to the proposed changes, it would not be mandatory to submit the draft amendments to the Constitutional Court before submitting it to a referendum.
The amendments also provide the opportunity for the President of the National Assembly to publish and approve of constitutional amendments adopted by Parliament without the signature of the President.
The opposition in parliament opposed the initiative of the ruling party.
The leader of the Bright Armenia faction Edmond Marukyan sees many problems in the proposed amendments, and the constitutional crisis, in his words, is a “fairy tale and a lie”
“Even if we recognize that there is a crisis, then we cannot sacrifice the rule of law and our international authority to resolve it.”
Another MP from Bright Armenia Taron Simonyan said that during the discussion of the bill that the introduction of amendments to the constitution requires the creation of a commission:
“What is your problem? Under the normal constitutional amendment procedure, both your problem regarding the Constitutional Court and the problem of the entire judicial system will be resolved. Why avoid normal, systemic changes and choose paths like this?”
Taron Simonyan also recalled the latest statement of the Venice Commission regarding judicial reforms in Armenia and the unacceptability of the simultaneous dismissal of most judges, since this, in the organization’s opinion, would be contrary to the constitution.
Is this even legal?
Former Minister of Justice David Harutyunyan believes that the draft constitutional amendments clearly contradicts the country’s main law, and is also an attempt to destroy the Constitutional Court. Moreover, he regards this procedure as a criminal offense.
Chairman of the Legal Way public organization Ruben Melikyan believes that ‘this is a bluff.
“With a psychological attack, [they will] exert influence on the judges of the Constitutional Court so that they ‘voluntarily’ sign and leave. Then everyone will forget about this bill, and the movie will end”, Melikyan says.
What does the chairman himself say?
While the issue of further activities of the current composition of the Constitutional Court was being decided at the National Assembly, Hrayr Tovmasyan organized a reception on the occasion of the 24th anniversary of the founding of the Constitutional Court, during which he delivered a speech.
“We must know and finally understand that the Constitutional Court is not a political institution, and it is unacceptable to check the degree of political trust in the judicial system. There is nothing of the kind and cannot be. At a distance of several hundred meters from us [ed. the parliament building is not far from the Constitutional Court] there is a process that history will evaluate”, said Hrayr Tovmasyan.