Businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) on Friday questioned the legality of an upcoming referendum on constitutional changes sought by the country’s leadership and said it will avoid any involvement in the process.
Former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) likewise announced that it will not actively campaign against the proposed changes despite considering them “unconstitutional” and “undemocratic.”
The draft amendments to the Armenian constitution call for the dismissal of seven of the nine members of the current Constitutional Court accused by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian of being linked to the country’s “corrupt former regime.” The Armenian parliament controlled by Pashinian’s My Step bloc decided last week to put them on a referendum amid serious procedural violations alleged by opposition lawmakers. Some of them said the amendments also run counter to other articles of the constitution.
The BHK, which has the second largest group in the parliament, said after a meeting of its governing body that the government push to replace the high court judges is “questionable in terms of legality.” In a statement, it said Tsarukian’s party will therefore “not participate in the process of holding a referendum on the constitutional changes.”
“It is evident that right from the beginning of the process the authorities moved the issue from the legal to political plane, turning it into a destructive black-and-white confrontation,” said the statement. “For the BHK, the practice of spreading divisions within the society and building barricades has always been unacceptable.”
The Bright Armenia Party (LHK), the second opposition force represented in the current parliament, went farther earlier this week, calling the referendum scheduled for April 5 “completely illegal.” But it too decided not to officially campaign for a “No” vote.
The former ruling HHK, which has repeatedly voiced support for Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian and the six other judges, branded the upcoming vote “unconstitutional, anti-legal and undemocratic.”
“The sole purpose of this adventure is to form a rubber-stamp Constitutional Court,” read a statement released by the HHK leadership on Friday. It said the party will not join in the referendum campaign.
Alen Simonian, a senior member of Pashinian’s bloc, shrugged off the HHK’s decision, saying that Sarkisian’s party is not a major political force anymore. He also claimed: “It’s clear that some forces are trying and will try to sabotage the referendum process openly or in a covert way.”
Speaking during a working visit to Germany on Thursday, Pashinian defended his administration’s efforts to replace the Constitutional Court judges. In a fresh jibe at Tovmasian, he charged that Armenia’s high court has been “occupied” and turned into a partisan structure. “We cannot tolerate this situation,” he said.
“[Pashinian’s] statement has nothing to do with reality,” countered LHK leader Edmon Marukian. “I don’t think that people in Germany are not aware of that.”
Marukian also dismissed Pashinian’s claim that the Constitutional Court is obstructing “institutional reforms” planned by his government. “Give me an example of a single reform that has been scuttled by the court,” he told reporters. “There is no reform.”