Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party has been criticized by some of its political allies for hiring several hundred people previously linked to Armenia’s former authorities to conduct the upcoming referendum on controversial constitutional amendments sought by it.
Under Armenian law, the two rival camps campaigning for and against the draft amendments are each allowed to name two of the seven members of some 2,000 precinct election commissions that will handle the April 5 referendum in polling stations across the country. They both practically filled these quotas by last weekend’s legal deadline.
It emerged that more than 500 commission members appointed by Civil Contract, which leads the “Yes” campaign, had already been chosen by the former ruling Republican Party (HHK) and its former coalition partners to sit on election commissions formed for December 2018 parliamentary elections. Critics claim that at least some of these individuals were involved in vote irregularities that had marred previous Armenian elections.
Vahagn Hovakimian, a leading Civil Contract member, dismissed the criticism on Thursday. He said that the “Yes” campaign has carried out background checks on those commission members and found that only one of them was implicated in electoral fraud. That person has been disqualified from the referendum process as a result, he said.
Hovakimian also argued that the 2018 elections, held six months after the Pashinian-led “Velvet Revolution,” were widely recognized as free and fair.
A senior representative of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) party dismissed this explanation, insisting that Pashinian’s political team has recruited people notorious for a “very dubious behavior.”
“People who were tainted during [past] electoral processes must never again deal with [new] electoral processes,” Armen Khachatrian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The authorities should have been very careful.”
Khachatrian complained in this regard that only 180 of some 1,200 people nominated by the HAK have been appointed to the referendum commissions by the “Yes” campaign.
Hovakimian countered that Civil Contract could not have picked more HAK nominees because of the limited number of commission seats. Also, he said, there are far fewer commission members representing other parties supporting the proposed constitutional changes.
The amendments call for ending the powers of the chairman and six other judges of Armenia’s seven-member Constitutional Court who had been installed by former governments. Pashinian has repeatedly accused them of maintaining links to the “corrupt former regime” and obstructing judicial reforms.
Pashinian’s political opponents and other critics say that he is simply seeking to fill the country’s highest court with his loyalists. They have also denounced the referendum as unconstitutional.