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Armenian Parliament Set To Debate Curb On Constitutional Court’s Powers


Armenia -- Deputies from the My Step bloc attend a parliament session in Yerevan, September 9, 2019.

Prompting opposition concerns, the pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament has signaled plans to enact new legislation that would allow it to bypass the Constitutional Court to amend the country’s constitution.

A senior parliamentarian representing the ruling My Step bloc has drafted a relevant bill amid Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s mounting tensions with the court and its chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian, in particular. The National Assembly is expected to debate it at an extraordinary session on Thursday.

Under existing Armenian laws, the Constitutional Court has to examine and validate any constitutional changes before they can be put on a referendum or be passed by the National Assembly.

The bill drafted by My Step’s Vahagn Hovakimian would make the court’s endorsement of constitutional reform nonobligatory. It argues that a chapter of the Armenian constitution defining mechanisms for such reforms makes no reference to the Constitutional Court.

But another chapter lists the validation of constitutional changes among the court’s powers. Hardline opposition figures and other critics of the Armenian government have already cited this provision to brand Hovakimian’s initiative unconstitutional.

Edmon Marukian, the leader of a more moderate opposition party, Bright Armenia, likewise suggested on Monday that the proposed change might run counter to the constitution.

“Since they [the parliament majority] see that they may put forward constitutional amendments that will create obvious problems with the constitution, they want to bypass the Constitutional Court,” said Marukian. “It’s very clear.”

Armenia -- Supporters of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian block the entrance to the Constitutional Court buildin in Yerevan, May 20, 2019.
Armenia -- Supporters of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian block the entrance to the Constitutional Court buildin in Yerevan, May 20, 2019.

Hovakimian refused to comment on the bill. My Step’s parliamentary leader, Lilit Makunts, was also reluctant to explain the official rationale for its passage.

Makunts said only that the parliament will likely debate the proposed legislation on Thursday. Significantly, she said that the “Constitutional Court crisis” will also be on the agenda of its emergency session.

“We need to find the way in which the National Assembly will propose a solution to the existing crisis around the Constitutional Court,” Makunts told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. She did not comment on possible solutions.

Tovmasian has faced in recent months growing government pressure to resign, with the ruling political team accusing him of maintaining ties to Armenia’s “corrupt former regime” and impeding judicial reforms. Also, prosecutors charged him in late December with abusing his powers when serving as justice minister from 2010-2014.

The Constitutional Court chairman rejects the accusations as politically motivated. He said last week that he has no intention to resign.

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