Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has made public a draft manifesto ahead of a constitutional referendum slated for April 5 in which citizens will be asked to approve the termination of powers of several High Court judges.
Pashinian and his political team accuse Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian and six other judges of maintaining ties to Armenia’s former leadership and impeding reforms that they say are aimed at creating an independent judiciary.
They believe that the Constitutional Court members 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.
Opposition parties accuse the prime minister of seeking to gain undue control over the Constitutional Court. They have refused to engage in campaigning against the proposed amendment, rejecting the referendum as unconstitutional.
Speaking at a public rally in Goris in Armenia’s southern Syunik province, Pashinian read out the draft of the ‘Yes’ campaign’s manifesto that he said is open for proposals to be elaborated before being finally adopted and published several days before the referendum.
It says that by approving changes to the constitution the people are “closing the page of the presence of illegitimate state bodies and officials in Armenia.”
The text of the proposed manifesto, in particular, states that “in the period from 1995 to 2018 when the non-violent, velvet people’s revolution took place, the official results of all nationwide elections did not reflect the free will of the people, except for the results of the 1999 parliamentary elections that were nullified by the October 27, 1999 terrorist attack on parliament.”
According to the draft manifesto, “along with the process of rigging elections in Armenia a corrupt system was being formed leading to systemic corruption.” Pashinian emphasized that systemic corruption existed in Armenia until the 2018 revolution and was expressed by “widespread bribery, the vicious system of kickbacks from government spending, the establishment of artificial economic monopolies, the fusion of business and presidential, legislative, executive and judicial powers.”
“Under this system, the presidential, legislative, executive and judicial authorities, including the Constitutional Court, largely served their own personal and group interests, ignoring the national and state interests of the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian people and principles of rule of law in the country, hindering Armenia’s progress and the well-being of its people. As a result, many senior government officials have illegally accumulated enormous amounts of wealth,” Pashinian continued.
The restitution of wealth “illegally accumulated by high-ranking state officials”, according to the draft manifesto, is “an inalienable right of the Republic of Armenia and its people.” “This process should take place exclusively in a legal way, with the formation of an effective law-enforcement system in the Republic of Armenia, an independent judiciary, including an independent and legitimate Constitutional Court,” the prime minister underscored.
Pashinian also called for the formation of effective mechanisms for separating business from power. “Power cannot be a means for accumulating wealth or preserving the accumulated wealth,” he said.
According to the document, “only an electoral system that ensures the free expression of the will of the people can be a guarantee of a state administration system with effective mechanisms of checks and balances.” “Therefore, the people of Armenia will not tolerate any illegal influence on the will of voters, any falsification, misrepresentation or neglect of the ballot results.”
Pashinian took a vacation on March 10 to kick off a series of public rallies in Armenian provinces and capital Yerevan ahead of the referendum.
By contrast, the ‘No’ campaign represented by a group of lawyers has said it will not be holding any public rallies, but will limit its campaigning to Facebook posts about alleged violations and reports to the Central Election Commission.
Its representatives have criticized the Pashinian-led campaign for allegedly using administrative resources. Officials have rejected the criticism.
Head of the Central Election Commission Tigran Mukuchian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday that the election body has not yet received any formal complaint regarding any violations during the campaign. He said that according to their observations, in general the campaign is taking place in accordance with the principles stipulated by the legislation concerning the holding of elections and referendums.
The Prosecutor’s Office, meanwhile, said that out of 19 reports of administrative violations related to the referendum campaign they are currently probing only two, with the rest having been dismissed after no evidence of any violations has been found.
In December, Constitutional Court Chairman Tovmasian was charged with abuse of power while he was serving as justice minister in 2010-2014. He has denied the accusation as politically motivated.
Earlier in December, a controversial law gave Tovmasian and the six other Constitutional Court members financial incentives to resign before the end of their mandates. None of them has accepted the offer.