The Armenian government allocated on Thursday about 3.5 billion drams ($7.3 million) for the conduct of the upcoming referendum on its controversial proposal to replace most members of the country’s Constitutional Court.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian insisted that the funding does not constitute a waste of scarce public resources and that it will actually benefit the Armenian economy.
Armenians will vote on April 5 on draft constitutional amendments that would end the powers of seven of the nine Constitutional Court judges who have for months been under strong government pressure to resign. Pashinian has repeatedly accused them -- and Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian in particular -- of maintaining ties to the “corrupt former regime” and impeding judicial reforms.
Pashinian’s political opponents and other critic say that he is simply seeking to gain control over Armenia’s highest court. Some of them also point to what they see as the exorbitant cost of the referendum.
Pashinian dismissed these arguments as his cabinet allocated the funding at a weekly session in Yerevan.
“First of all, I want to say that this allocated sum will eventually flow into the economy because after all economic transactions will be carried out with this sum,” he said. “Secondly, money has to be spent on ensuring a free expression of the people’s will. So any discussions and speculations are not appropriate in this case.”
The Central Election Commission (CEC) will receive more than 2.5 billion drams of the sum. According to Finance Minister Atom Janjughazian, the CEC will in turn spend at least 2 billion drams on the wages of its members and more low-ranking election officials that will organize the vote in polling stations across Armenia.
By comparison, the government plans to spend 163 billion drams on education and 111 billion drams on healthcare this year. Its entire 2020 budget is projected at 1.88 trillion drams (almost $4 billion).