The two opposition parties represented in the Armenian parliament deplored on Thursday a lack of transparency in government efforts to enact legislation for a mandatory “vetting” of the country’s judges demanded by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Pashinian moved to purge the judiciary after a Yerevan court controversially ordered former President Robert Kocharian released from custody on May 18 pending the outcome of his high-profile trial. The premier said on May 20 that Armenian judges lack public trust and must therefore be vetted based on their “political ties, origin, property status and activities.”
The parliamentary leader of Pashinian’s My Step alliance, Lilit Makunts, declared on Wednesday that pro-government lawmakers are already finalizing a bill on such vetting. She called on the opposition Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Bright Armenia (LHK) parties to submit “proposals as to what they want that vetting bill to contain.”
Both parties dismissed the offer as disingenuous, saying that they are hearing about the bill for the first time and are completely uninformed about its essence. They said that they should have been involved in the drafting process from the outset.
“You should create a [multi-party] group and work in that format, instead of saying that ‘we are working on something and if you have concerns or proposals share them with us,’” LHK leader Edmon Marukian told Makunts on the parliament floor. “What should we submit proposals on? How do we know what you’ve written?”
Another LHK parliamentarian, Taron Simonian, echoed that criticism. “The authorities should present us with their views, [reform] toolkit and [legislative] package before we can put forward our views about it,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Simonian warned against the creation of a new “judicial system beneficial for the political authorities.”
A senior BHK figure, deputy parliament speaker Vahe Enfiajian, similarly said that any opposition input will be “meaningless” as long as the pro-government majority keeps the key points of the vetting bill confidential.
“I don’t find it expedient to release substantive details [of the bill] at the moment,” insisted Makunts.She said the bill will be publicized within a month.
The opposition criticism came as a high-level delegation of the Council of Europe arrived in Yerevan for two-day consultations with Armenian leaders, including Pashinian and parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan, regarding the judicial reform. The Strasbourg-based organization said last week that officials from various Council of Europe structures will “offer advice and assistance with the necessary reforms” during the visit.
In a May 22 phone call, Pashinian assured Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland that the reforms will conform to Armenia’s constitution and international commitments.