The Armenian parliament voted on Wednesday to elect Hrayr Tovmasian, a former opposition politician who switched his allegiance to President Serzh Sarkisian in 2010, the new chairman of the country’s Constitutional Court.
The previous, longtime head of Armenia’s highest court, Gagik Harutiunian, was named earlier this month to run a new body that will oversee the Armenian judiciary and supposedly guarantee its independence.
A lawyer by education, Tovmasian was a senior member of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party in the 2000s. He was unexpectedly appointed as justice minister in late 2010 and joined Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in 2012.
Tovmasian was dismissed as justice minister in 2013 to become a key member of a presidential body that drafted controversial constitutional changes calling for Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic. He was elected to the current National Assembly on the HHK ticket last year and headed its standing committee on legal affairs until this month.
The HHK-controlled parliament named him a Constitutional Court judge on March 2. It went on to elect him court chairman by 64 votes to 27. The 47-year-old was backed by deputies from the ruling party and its junior coalition partner, Dashnaktsutyun, but rejected by their colleagues representing the opposition Tsarukian Bloc and Yelk alliance.
Yelk lawmakers were particularly critical of Tovmasian’s candidacy during a debate that preceded the vote. One of them, Nikol Pashinian, said that he is being rewarded for helping Sarkisian extend his rule as a result of the controversial constitutional reform and several new laws mainly authored by Tovmasian.
“Hrayr Tovmasian is being dispatched to the Constitutional Court and appointed as its chairman in order to serve … as a watchdog for this fraudulent state,” charged Pashinian.
The HHK’s parliamentary leaders claimed that in his new job Tovmasian will not be influenced by his government background and past affiliation with the president’s party.
“I promise that I will be both the chairman of a good Constitutional Court and a good chairman of the Constitutional Court,” Tovmasian said, for his part, right after the vote. He declined to speak to reporters before making his way into an HHK deputy’s office moments later.