The opposition Yelk alliance accused the pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament on Wednesday of resorting to fraud to elect a key member of a new judicial body set up in the country.
The National Assembly voted earlier in the day to choose five of the ten members of the Supreme Judicial Council tasked with overseeing Armenian courts. All of the elected council members were nominated by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). They include Gagik Harutiunian, the outgoing chairman of the Constitutional Court.
Harutiunian was elected by 96 votes to 2, according to Gagik Melikian, the head of an ad hoc parliament commission that administered the secret ballot.
Yelk’s parliamentary leader, Nikol Pashinian, cried foul shortly after the announcement of the vote results. He insisted that he and six other deputies representing Yelk voted against Harutiunian.
“I consider this an act of petty chicanery by representatives of the [parliamentary] majority which is directed against Yelk and pursues far-reaching political goals,” charged Pashinian. He demanded a criminal investigation into the alleged fraud.
Melikian rejected the accusations, arguing that a protocol on the vote results was signed by all members of his commission, including Yelk’s Lena Nazarian. Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker also affiliated with the HHK, made a similar point.
“I did take part in the vote count but I can’t be sure that ballots marked against [Harutiunian] were not replaced by ballots marked for him,” said Nazarian. She claimed that such fraud may well have been committed by another member of Melikian’s commission.
The Yelk allegations were angrily denied by the HHK’s parliamentary leader, Vahram Baghdasarian. “Getting 96, 86 or 80 votes wouldn’t make any difference for Gagik Harutiunian or us,” he said. “Please do not stir up trouble and disrupt our work with unnecessary statements.”
Under Armenia’s amended constitution, the main mission of the Supreme Judicial Council is to “guarantee the independence of the courts and the judges.” The council will nominate virtually all new judges that will be appointed by the Armenian president and the National Assembly. It can also take disciplinary action against judges or have them terminated.
The five other members of the powerful body will be chosen by the country’s judges who have served for at least ten years.