Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian took a vacation on Tuesday to get actively engaged in political campaigning ahead of next month’s constitutional referendum in which citizens will be asked to approve the termination of powers of several High Court judges.
Pashinian and his political team believe Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian and six other judges elected before the 2015 constitution was fully enforced in April 2018 must be removed from office and new judges must be elected to replace them in order to maintain the spirit of the constitution.
To this end, the pro-government My Step faction in parliament initiated the constitutional amendment in February amid objections from opposition groups, including the extra-parliamentary former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) that alleged that Pashinian is simply seeking to gain control over the Constitutional Court and thus tighten his hold on power.
The HHK and other opposition parties have abstained from taking part in the ‘No’ campaign ahead of the April 5 referendum, considering the holding of the referendum itself unconstitutional.
Tovmasian and other judges to be affected by the change have also accused the government of putting pressure on the judiciary in an attempt to jeopardize its independence.
In his speech at today’s rally in Meghri Pashinian described the Constitutional Court as “the only remaining institution in Armenia that is not in compliance with the current constitution.”
“The Constitutional Court today does not represent the people. I urge you to go to polling stations on April 5 and confirm that you are sending home this old Constitutional Court, which had patronized all electoral frauds in Armenia in the past,” Pashinian said.
Pashinian earlier claimed that Tovmasian, who co-authored the 2015 constitution, had struck a deal with the then government to be elected chairman of the Constitutional Court only days before the new constitution was to be fully enforced.
Running the court under the previous constitution allows Tovmasian, who is now 49, to hold the post until he is 65, that is until 2035. By contrast, had Tovmasian been elected after April 9, 2018, he would be confined to just one six-year tenure.
In his speech in Meghri Pashinian said: “Under the new constitution the election of the Constitutional Court’s chairman should be held once every six years and the same person cannot be elected for more than one term. But according to their interpretation, the next election should be held in 2035. It would be the same if we as a bloc that was elected to parliament for five years concocted some law that would allow us not to hold the next elections until 2035 because of some ‘legal practice’ or something like that.”
Speaking at a rally in the town of Kapan, Syunik’s provincial center, Pashinian emphasized that the vote of Armenian citizens in the upcoming referendum will be a sovereign decision.“There is no force in the world that can challenge the decision of Armenia’s sovereign citizen,” stressed the prime minister, comparing the upcoming ballot with the 1991 referendum in which an overwhelming majority of Armenians voted in favor of gaining independence from the Soviet Union.
Pashinian visited several other towns in Armenia’s southern Syunik province and held rallies there today. He is expected to proceed with the campaign and hold more public rallies in other provinces of the country in the coming days.
The ‘No’ campaign in the current referendum is represented by a group of lawyers who have said they will not engage in public campaigning, but will limit their campaign to Facebook posts about alleged violations and reports to the Central Election Commission.
Former deputy Justice Minister Ruben Melikian, who represents the ‘No’ campaign, complained on Tuesday about what he described as yet another case of the prime minister using his administrative resource to promote his political campaign. He, in particular, pointed to the fact that Pashinian went to Syunik on board a helicopter that is assigned to the prime minister by law. “Using the helicopter citizen Nikol Pashinian got an advantage in his campaign over the opposite side,” Melikian claimed.
Earlier, the representative of the ‘No’ campaign also criticized Pashinian and other members of his political team for allegedly campaigning in their official capacity. The officials shrugged off the criticism.