Armenian parliament intends to replace head of Constitutional Court
A closed, secret ballot vote was held in the Armenian parliament on the proposal of the ruling faction My Step to appeal to the Constitutional Court on the issue of terminating the powers of its chairman.
The authorities that came to power after the Velvet Revolution associate Hrayr Tovmasyan with the past authorities, and considers him incapable of making fair and lawful decisions in the new, post-revolutionary reality.
Most MPs voted in favor of the proposal. One opposition MP refused to vote on the draft, citing the weakness of the legal grounds included in it.
The decision must be made by members of the Constitutional Court. Hrayr Tovmasyan will leave his post if at least six out of nine judges agree with the position of the parliament.
Ruling bloc initiative and voting results
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.
Speaker’s statements and Tovmasyan’s response
The speaker of the Armenian parliament Ararat Mirzoyan during a meeting at which the termination of powers of the head of the Constitutional Court was being discussed, said:
“Truthfulness is the only way to solve problems. Over two decades, Armenia illegally influenced the electoral process in droves. In the days of the previous authorities, the state robbed, starting with the army. If we made a list of the top 5 lawyers of the previous regime, then Tovmasyan would certainly have entered this list.
“Tovmasyan had and still has political motivation, and this motivation is not at all the interests of the Constitutional Court, but the continuation of the defense of the interests of the previous regime. Because of all this, Hrayr Tovmasyan cannot remain the chairman of the Constitutional Court, he had such a chance, and he losses it.”
Mirzoyan also commented on the close relations of one of the lawyers of the second President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan and the chairman of the Constitutional Court. According to the speaker, “this is not just family ties, but negotiations between the former team and the Constitutional Court.”
Hrayr Tovmasyan also commented on his connection with the lawyer of ex-President Kocharyan:
“Kocharyan’s lawyer and my godson Aram Orbelian (and whoever was in his place) cannot force me to make any decision contrary to my inner convictions.”
The chairman of the court believes that the ongoing processes are purely political in nature. And their goal, in his opinion, is to neutralize the Constitutional Court as an obstacle to political decision-making:
“The presence of such a predictable Constitutional Court, which should execute or “package” political decisions, is the end of the state. The Constitutional Court is the last braking system. The point is not only whether Hrayr Tovmasyan will remain there or not. If the problem was this, then believe me, I would have long left this post.”