Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Wednesday warned his political opponents against appealing to Armenia’s Constitutional Court in a bid to scuttle controversial constitutional changes sought by him.
Pashinian already issued a stark warning to them last week as the Armenian parliament controlled by his My Step bloc decided to hold a referendum on draft amendments that would sack seven of the court’s nine judges facing government pressure to resign.
“All those individuals or forces who will try to put legal or other hurdles to a free expression of the people’s will receive an adequate counterstrike as anti-popular and anti-state forces,” he declared on February 6.
The warning prompted an angry response from Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK) which regards the draft amendments as unconstitutional. Marukian accused Pashinian of “blackmail,” saying that the latter may have threatened violent attacks against the LHK or other opposition groups.
Pashinian hit back at Marukian, his erstwhile ally, during his government’s latest question-and-answer session in the National Assembly. He said the opposition leader dares to lambaste the current government because of being confident that it will never resort to violence.
Pashinian also said: “I implied [on February 6] that if this decision to hold the referendum is challenged in the Constitutional Court we will evaluate that in this way. Why? Because we are saying, ‘Let’s ask the people and ensure a free expression of the people’s will.’”
“If there is a force which says, ‘No, I don’t want to ask the people and will ask the Constitutional Court instead,’ a certain conclusion will be drawn from that, especially in this situation,” he added.
The LHK and the other parliamentary opposition party, Prosperous Armenia (BHK), can still prevent the holding of the April 5 referendum if their parliament deputies appeal to the Constitutional Court and convince it to declare the amendments unconstitutional. Such appeals must be signed by at least 27 members of the 132-seat parliament. The BHK and the LHK control 26 and 17 parliament seats respectively.
Marukian on Tuesday reaffirmed his party’s readiness to challenge the referendum in the court. BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian indicated, however, that BHK lawmakers will not back such a move.
Pashinian also claimed on Wednesday that campaigning for the referendum will stimulate economic activity in Armenia by boosting citizens’ “confidence in the future.” Also, he said, “many” Armenians living abroad will heed his appeals and travel to their home country and vote for ousting the high court judges.
“We seem to be creating a new type of tourism which is called electoral tourism,” he declared.
Pashinian appealed to hundreds of thousands of Armenian expats immediately after President Armen Sarkissian set the referendum date on Sunday. Some of his critics construed the appeal as a sign that he is worried about not garnering enough votes for the constitutional amendments.
To pass, the amendments have to be backed by the majority of referendum participants making up at least one-quarter of Armenia’s 2.57 million or so eligible voters.