The National Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to appoint Armenia’s new human rights ombudsman nominated by President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK).
Arman Tatoyan, who served as a deputy minister of justice until now, was backed by 96 of the 131 members of the Armenian parliament. He was sworn in for a six-year term immediately after the vote.
The position has been vacant since its previous holder, Karen Andreasian, unexpectedly stepped down on January 12. He gave no clear reasons for the move.
Andreasian was publicly attacked by several HHK parliamentarians in October when he presented the National Assembly with an annual report on the work of his office. He denounced the harsh criticism as a smear campaign ordered by an unnamed government-linked individual.
The ruling party, which enjoys a comfortable majority in the parliament, has denied forcing him to resign.
Under Armenian law, Tatoyan needed at least 79 parliamentary votes in order to become ombudsman. His candidacy was backed by deputies representing not only the HHK and its coalition partner-in-waiting, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, but also the nominally opposition Prosperous Armenia and Orinats Yerkir parties.
Also voting for Tatoyan was Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken opposition lawmaker who set up a new party last year. Pashinian said during a parliament debate on Monday that Tatoyan should be given a chance to prove his declared commitment to human rights.
But other opposition deputies rejected the choice of Andreasian’s successor. One of them, Zaruhi Postanjian, branded Tatoyan as an “advocate of the government.”
Her colleagues representing the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) made similar claims when they announced that they will boycott the parliament vote on the new ombudsman.
Tatoyan, 34, was careful not to reveal his immediate objectives or pass judgment on a number of controversial arrests and imprisonments of opposition activists.“I need time to clarify many issues and figure out my priorities,” he told reporters after his election. “I cannot make evaluations at this point.”
Tatoyan similarly skirted opposition deputies’ questions about the existence of political prisoners in Armenia during Monday’s debate.