Armenia’s leading opposition party has slammed the involvement of a supreme court official in the planned referendum on constitutional amendments, claiming that it makes the process “illegitimate” from the very beginning.
The Armenian National Congress (HAK) believes that the drafting of the changes themselves as well as the process ahead of the December 6 referendum have already violated Armenia’s laws and cannot make the results of the vote stand whatever they are.
Under Armenia’s law on referendums the outcomes of referendums can be contested at the Constitutional Court within seven days after the publication of the results. In a statement released on Friday the party noted, invoking the law, that the referendum process itself begins on the first day of the launch of the campaign and ends after the expiry of a seven-day period envisaged for appeals to the Constitutional Court after the ballot.
“During this period any circumstance that would predetermine the outcome of the referendum makes the referendum illegal and invalid,” the HAK stressed, adding that Constitutional Court Chairman Gagik Harutiunian’s involvement in the process as head of the commission that drafted the set of amendments can already be viewed as “a major predetermining circumstance.”
The HAK said that Harutiunian not only was actively involved in drafting the changes, but has also actively campaigned for them.
“By doing so he violated the clear requirements of the Constitution and laws, in essence engaging in political activities,” the HAK said. “Secondly, publicly appearing as an advocate of the draft put to the referendum, he, as the Constitutional Court Chairman, cannot be fair and impartial in case its results are appealed.”
The HAK stressed that “the constitutional referendum process will remain illegitimate and its results invalid from the outset unless Constitutional Court Chairman Gagik Harutiunian resigns.”
Earlier, responding to similar concerns voiced by other groups, Harutiunian said they were ungrounded. He explained that the commission that drafted the amendments had already completed its work.
Meanwhile, HAK parliamentary leader Levon Zurabian believes that Harutiunian also has personal interest in it. “In 2018, he [Harutiunian] will turn 70 and after that, under the Constitution, he cannot remain in the post of chairman of the Constitutional Court. He has found a good job for himself after that – the job of the president of Armenia under the new Constitution,” he said.
The HAK, along with a number of other parliamentary and extra-parliamentary parties and groups, opposes the constitutional changes proposed by the current administration.
The party led by former president Levon Ter-Petrosian maintains that the proposed amendments to the Armenian constitution are aimed at enabling incumbent President Serzh Sarkisian to indefinitely stay in power in a different capacity after the end of his second and final presidential term in 2018.
Sarkisian has denied this, saying that he will not become prime minister or parliament speaker in case of Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic. The president, his ruling Republican Party of Armenia and other political allies say that such a radical change would, on the contrary, decentralize power and facilitate the country’s democratization.
Legal experts from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission largely endorsed the draft amendments in September after most of the changes in the text recommended by them were accepted by the Sarkisian administration.