The Armenian parliament formally appealed to the Constitutional Court on Friday to replace its chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian, who is increasingly at loggerheads with the country’s political leadership.
In a resolution drafted by its pro-government majority, the parliament denounced, among other things, his handling of appeals against the legality of coup charges brought against the arrested former President Robert Kocharian. The resolution also says that Tovmasian cannot make impartial decisions on this case because of his past membership in the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
The Constitutional Court has to discuss the appeal and respond to it within 30 days. Tovmasian will be sacked if at least six of the court’s nine judges vote against him. Parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan assured reporters that the parliament majority will accept any decision made by the court.
Tovmasian, who was installed as court chairman by Armenia’s previous leadership overthrown in the 2018 “Velvet Revolution,” strongly denies violations of the due process, political bias and conflict of interest alleged by the 94-page resolution.
He charged earlier this week that the authorities are seeking to oust him in order to gain control over the high court and be able to make unconstitutional decisions. Tovmasian said he will not bow to the pressure despite the recent arrests of two individuals linked to him.
Senior lawmakers from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step alliance condemned Tovmasian’s latest statements when the National Assembly debated the appeal to the Constitutional Court on Thursday. One of them, Lilit Makunts, dismissed his claims as “political.”
The 132-member parliament adopted the appeal by 98 votes to 1. The document was backed by not only My Step’s deputies but also their colleagues representing the opposition Bright Armenia Party.
The other parliamentary opposition force, businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), refused to back the initiative and its 26 deputies did not take part in the vote. Tsarukian said on Wednesday that the ruling bloc has come up with “very weak” arguments in support of its bid to oust Tovmasian.
In a September 4 ruling read out by Tovmasian, the court declared unconstitutional a legal provision used by investigators against former President Kocharian. Pashinian called the ruling “illegal,” citing dissenting opinions voiced by two court judges.
In a July interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Pashinian accused Tovmasian of cutting political deals with former President Serzh Sarkisian to “privatize” the Constitutional Court in early 2018. Tovmasian responded by warning the government against trying to force him and his colleagues to resign.