None of the members of Armenia’s Constitutional Court at loggerheads with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has accepted a lucrative government offer of early retirement which expired on Thursday.
Pashinian’s political team made the controversial offer late last year as part of its efforts to replace the nine-member court’s chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian, and six other judges installed by former Armenian governments.
A government bill passed by the Armenian parliament in December stipulated that they will continue to receive their salaries, bonuses and other benefits if they resign by February 27, 2020.
Some Constitutional Court judges were quick to publicly reject these financial incentives. One of them, Alvina Gyulumian, said she finds it “immoral” to retire and continue receiving a monthly salary of roughly 700,000 drams ($1,460) “for doing nothing.” Another judge, Arevik Petrosian, likewise called the proposed retirement dishonorable.
The bill also prompted strong criticism from some Armenian legal experts and opposition leaders who branded it a “bribe.” Pashinian’s political allies dismissed such characterizations, saying that the authorities only want to end the Constitutional Court “crisis” in the country.
“We warned at the time that this mechanism will not work,” Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK), told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Thursday. “We said that [the judges] will not do that because that would be a humiliation and they would not be able to keep realizing themselves in the legal profession … It turns out now that we were right and [the authorities] wrong.”
“Right from the beginning it was clear that nobody is going to say, ‘I have a criminal or vicious past and you should give me money so that I can stay at home,’” said Marukian.
Justice Minister Rustam Badasian, one of the main authors of the bill, suggested that the high court judges refused to take up the option because of the “bribery” allegations and other “moral obstacles” created by the government’s critics. He said it will now be up to voters to decide their future.
Pashinian and his My Step bloc decided early this month to hold a referendum on ending the powers of the seven of the nine court judges. The prime minister has repeatedly accused them -- and Tovmasian in particular -- of being linked to the “corrupt former regime” and impeding judicial reforms.
Pashinian’s political opponents say that he is simply seeking to gain control over the Constitutional Court and thus tighten his hold on power. They have also denounced the referendum scheduled for April 5 as unconstitutional.