By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s political opposition has registered a rare victory at the Constitutional Court as the Election Code provision allowing the presence of judges in election commissions was pronounced unconstitutional on Tuesday.
The provision was contested by a group of 27 opposition parliamentarians led by lawmaker Shavarsh Kocharian who argued that it contradicts the principle of separation of powers and potentially endangers citizens’ right to fair trial.
The Constitutional Court’s verdict means that judges of Armenia’s Court of Cassation already appointed as election commission members cannot continue in this capacity as all related amendments to the Election Code passed in 2005 are considered invalid.
Constitutional Court Chairman Gagik Harutiunian spelled out the ruling: “The first reason [for passing this ruling] is that a judge must not engage in any activities in state or local government bodies but should perform only his immediate duties. The second very important point is the establishment of an independent and unbiased judiciary. There might be a situation when a majority of judges will be involved in electoral processes, which will mean that justice will idle and citizen will not have the opportunity to defend their rights in courts.”
Deputy Chairman of the “Democracy” organization Hrair Tovmasian, who represented the opposition at the Constitutional Court, said: “The Electoral Code was amended in a hurry, at the last moment. The objective was to recruit representatives of most publicly trusted structures in election commissions and a decision was made that it is the judiciary that enjoys that trust, a decision that was clearly against the constitution.”
Under the amended Electoral Code, two members of the nine-member commission are now appointed from among Court of Cassation judges.
“The number is not important, but the mechanism is. Political authorities and opposition should have equal representation in election commissions,” Tovmasian said.