Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian heard criticism at the weekend over allegedly campaigning for constitutional changes in his official capacity as he paid a visit to one of the country’s provinces where he also inspected a recently renovated road.
Pashinian traveled to the northeastern Lori province on March 7 and there in the town of Stepanavan accompanied by Minister for Local Government and Infrastructure Suren Papikian he distributed booklets for his ‘Yes’ campaign in the April 5 referendum.
The only issue put to the referendum is whether Armenians agree to the powers of Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tavmasian and six other judges who were elected before the 2015 constitution was fully enforced in April 2018 to be terminated.
The amendment was initiated by Pashinian’s political team and the campaigning in the referendum officially kicked off on February 17.
A group of lawyers representing the ‘No’ camp in the referendum claimed, however, that the kind of campaign overlapping with the prime minister’s official functions was at least “controversial.”
The prime minister’s press office released a statement on Saturday, saying that during his visit to Lori Pashinian also made a stop at the 2.5-kilometer section of the Gyulagarak road that officials said was fully renovated in 2019.
Ruben Melikian, a ‘No’ campaign representative, said it was not clear to him whether Pashinian inspected the road in his capacity as prime minister or as a politician engaged in a referendum campaign.
“If Pashinian travels to some place for the purpose of campaigning there, then he should fulfill only the campaigning part and not combine it with his official duties as prime minister,” Melikian complained. “I think all this is very important for developing a rule-of-law culture in our country.”
While meeting with people on his current campaign trail Pashinian has markedly avoided answering questions from citizens relating to his duties as prime minister, repeatedly telling them that his outing is focused only on the upcoming constitutional referendum.
Before traveling to Stepanavan Pashinian and two of his daughters took a ride in Yerevan’s metro and went around the city’s streets distributing booklets designed in the form of an Armenian passport.
During nearly a two-hour tour that was steamed live on Facebook on Friday evening Pashinian met with a large number of citizens, a vast majority of whom were sympathetic of his campaign and took selfies with him. Still, the prime minister was confronted by one citizen apparently critical of his administration. A young woman in a metro carriage ripped up the booklet that Pashinian had handed her and threw the pieces at him.
Pashinian took the woman’s reaction in its stride. “This is what democracy is for,” he told her in an undaunted manner.
Later, the prime minister reflected on the incident in a Facebook post. “I think this is the best way of campaigning in favor of the ‘Yes’ message [in the referendum], because the safety of this young woman is not threatened, she will not be ‘accidentally’ beaten up in the nearest restroom, she will continue to live her usual life, freely express her views and she won’t be fired from her job because she lives and will live in a free and happy Armenia.”
Pashinian’s words about “being ‘accidentally’ beaten up in the nearest restroom” are an apparent reference to the 2001 killing of a man in a café restroom by then President Robert Kocharian’s bodyguard. Poghos Poghosian, 43, was then beaten to death for allegedly greeting Kocharian in a familiar manner. The court later found Kocharian’s bodyguard guilty of only manslaughter and gave him a suspended prison sentence. An appeals court in Armenia is reviewing the case at present after fresh evidence has emerged to suggest a possible murder.