The National Assembly on Tuesday voted to elect a prominent lawyer, Vahe Grigorian, as a new member of Armenia’s Constitutional Court.
President Armen Sarkissian again nominated Grigorian for a vacant seat in the country’s highest court late last month after the Armenian parliament rejected two other candidates chosen by him.
Sarkissian first proposed Grigorian’s candidacy last fall. The then parliament dominated by supporters of the former Armenian government refused to approve it.
Grigorian’s appointment was backed by 99 lawmakers and opposed by 22 others this time around. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step alliance controls 88 seats in the current parliament, suggesting that Grigorian also won the backing of a dozen opposition deputies.
One of those deputies, Arman Babajanian of the Bright Armenia Party (LHK), said before the vote that Grigorian’s election will make it even harder for Armenia’s former leaders to regain power.
Other LHK parliamentarians spoke out against the court nominee. They suggested that the Armenian constitution does not allow the president to nominate the same person for a second time. They also questioned Grigorian’s impartiality, citing his warm relations with the country’s current leadership.
“We may be placing a time bomb under the Constitutional Court,” declared the LHK’s Gevorg Gorgisian.
“I don’t want to make secret of the fact that I have friends in the My Step alliance,” Grigorian said in response. “Our friendship has an ideological base and that ideological base is not a partisan base. It’s about our common dream and goal: a free and democratic Armenia.”
“Judges don’t have friends anymore as soon as they are sworn in,” he added.
For their part, My Step deputies were full of praise for Grigorian. One of them, Hovannes Hovannisian, deplored what he described as social media “hysteria” over the court nominee whipped up by the government’s foes.
Grigorian has been a vocal critic of Armenia’s former governments. He represented opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and his Armenian National Congress party in Constitutional Court hearings on their appeals against official results of a 2008 presidential election and parliamentary elections held in 2012 and 2017. In addition, he has represented relatives of anti-government protesters killed by security forces in the wake of the 2008 vote in Armenian and European courts.
Speaking before Tuesday’s parliament vote, Grigorian made clear that he stands for a presidential, rather than parliamentary, system of government. He called for a public debate on changing the Armenian constitution which was radically amended in a disputed 2015 referendum. The amendments turned Armenia into a parliamentary republic.
Grigorian likened the current constitution to a “child born as a result of rape.” “We all love it and so on but we always remember his or her origin,” he said.
“You made an extremely bad comparison, Mr. Grigorian,” countered Gevorg Petrosian, a senior lawmaker from Prosperous Armenia Party, the other opposition force represented in the parliament.
“If that is the case, why are you sanding on the shoulders of that child born of rape and trying to make your way into the Constitutional Court with those shoulders?” asked Petrosian.