A senior lawmaker stressed on Friday that the Armenian authorities are not obliged to consult with the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission before holding a referendum on controversial constitutional changes drafted by them.
The proposed amendments call for the dismissal of seven of the nine members of Armenia’s Constitutional Court accused by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian of remaining linked to “the corrupt former regime.” The Armenian parliament controlled by Pashinian’s My Step bloc decided to put them on a referendum on Thursday.
Amid a heated parliament debate on the issue, two representatives of another Council of Europe structure, the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), urged the authorities in Yerevan to send the amendments to the Venice Commission for examination “as soon as possible.”
“We believe that this opinion … would be valuable to all stakeholders, including the Armenian electorate if a referendum were to be held,” they said in a joint statement.
Commenting on that statement, Vladimir Vartanian, the pro-government chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on legal affairs, said the authorities are under no legal obligation to have the draft amendments examined by the Strasbourg-based watchdog.
Vartanian said they might consider doing so only after President Armen Sarkissian endorses the parliament’s decision to hold the referendum.
Leaders of the two parliamentary opposition parties insisted, however, that requesting a Venice Commission opinion is essential for the legitimacy of the process. Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) said this would be a “sensible” move on the part of the authorities.
For his part, Bright Armenia Party (LHK) leader Edmon Marukian again claimed that the far-reaching changes sought by Pashinian are unconstitutional and were passed with serious procedural violations. They must also be scrutinized by the Constitutional Court, he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Marukian also accused Pashinian of illegally threatening and pressuring the seven judges in a speech delivered on the parliament floor during Thursday’s debate.
The BHK, which is led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian, has been more cautious in opposing the proposed changes. Zohrabian said its final position on the referendum depends on the findings of the Venice Commission. But she would not say what her party will do if the authorities bypass the commission.