Fate of Armenian Constitutional Court decided not by referendum, but by parliamentary majority
The Armenian parliament has approved amendments to the law on referendum after the second and final reading, which creates the opportunity to cancel the referendum on constitutional amendments.
It was scheduled to go into effect on April 5, but was postponed due to the state of emergency declared in connection with the coronavirus.
The referendum was supposed to put an end to the conflict surrounding the Constitutional Court.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his administration, which came into power in spring 2018 following the Velvet Revolution, feels it necessary to annul the authority of six judges and the head of the Constitutional Court who were appointed by the previous, ousted regime. Pashinyan’ s government believes that they are incapable of making fair judgements in the “new” Armenian state.
Not only the court itself, but its president, as well as opposition MPs disagree with the decision of the authorities.
Despite this, in February 2020, the ruling parliamentary alliance approved a decision to hold a popular referendum. The fate of the Constitutional Court was to be handed over to the people.
But now the parliament, where the ruling party has the majority of votes, will decide whether to preserve the powers of the president and six judges of the Constitutional Court.
Two parliamentary opposition factions called the amendments unconstitutional, explaining that the referendum can only be postponed, but not canceled.
What the ruling party says
Lilit Makunts, head of the ruling My Step alliance said:
“The bill is being passed with the consideration that it is impossible to hold a referendum during the pandemic without putting the lives of our citizens in danger. Consequently, it became necessary to cancel the referendum.”
Vladimir Vardanyan, another ruling party MP and chairman of the Standing Committee on State and Legal Affairs, also emphasized that the only reason why the referendum was cancelled is because of the coronavirus. However, the MP did not explain why it was not possible to simply schedule the referendum for a different date instead of cancelling it entirely.
What the opposition says
The opposition considers the amendments to be unconstitutional, because now it will be possible not only to postpone, but also to completely cancel any approved referendum on any issue.
Even at the first reading of the bill, Prosperous Armenia voted against it, and the Bright Armenia faction refused to vote at all.
“We believe that the bill goes against the constitution and will not participate in the vote, so as to not provide the required number of votes. We urge our colleagues from Prosperous Armenia to do the same,” explained Edmon Marukyan, head of the Bright Armenia faction, before the vote.
History repeats itself
At first, the parliamentary opposition was against the decision to hold the referendum itself. Oppositionists then declared the legal grounds for a popular vote weak.
However, the decision was nonetheless made to hold the referendum, as the ruling party had enough votes to approve it.
In February, when the referendum date was set, the parliamentary opposition could appeal to the Constitutional Court and challenge the decision to hold a referendum.
To do this, they had to collect 27 signatures, meaning 1/5 of all deputies had to sign. And in this case, the Constitutional Court itself would decide whether to suspend this process or not.
The Bright Armenia opposition faction stated that it was ready to begin this process if the Prosperous Armenia party supported this decision. Unfortunately, they did not reach the required 10 mandates to appeal to the Constitutional Court.
However, Prosperous Armenia announced that it simply would not participate in the referendum and would not join the process of appealing to the Constitutional Court, since it considered the court to be an interested party in the matter.