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Official Signals Further Delay In Armenian Constitutional Referendum


Armenia -- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian speaks at a referendum campaign rally in Vayk, March 12, 2020.

The Armenian authorities are unlikely to hold a planned referendum on their controversial bid to oust most members of the country’s Constitutional Court until they defeat the coronavirus epidemic, a pro-government lawmaker said on Thursday.

Armenians were scheduled to vote on April 5 on draft constitutional amendments ending the powers of seven of the nine Constitutional Court judges who had for months been under strong government pressure to resign.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has repeatedly accused them -- and Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian in particular -- of maintaining ties to the “corrupt former regime” and impeding judicial reforms. Tovmasian and opposition figures have dismissed these claims, saying that Pashinian is simply seeking to gain control over Armenia’s highest court.

Also, leading opposition parties have said that the proposed amendments run counter to other articles of the Armenian constitution.

Pashinian officially launched his campaign for a “Yes” vote in the referendum on March 10 but had to end it a week later amid a rapid spread of coronavirus in Armenia which led his government to declare a state of emergency. Under Armenian law, no elections or referendums can held during emergency rule.

Armenia -- A Constitutional Court hearing in Yerevan, February 11, 2020.
Armenia -- A Constitutional Court hearing in Yerevan, February 11, 2020.

The government has yet to announce whether it will again extend the state of emergency which expires on May 14. A decision to end it would require the holding of the constitutional referendum in between 50 and 65 days’ time.

“I think that as long as the health of our citizens remains in danger in this coronavirus situation we will not take a risk and hold the referendum,” said Hrach Hakobian, a parliament deputy from the ruling My Step bloc.

“The [Constitutional Court] problem remains and it has not been resolved, but the health of our citizens is more important for us than other issues,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

The spread of coronavirus in Armenia has continued unabated after the government essentially lifted a nationwide lockdown on Monday. The Armenian Ministry of Health reported on Thursday morning 102 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths caused by the virus. The total number of cases thus reached 2,884.

Hakobian, who is also Pashinian’s brother-in-law, said that the authorities are now considering various ways of ending what they call a “constitutional crisis.” “I can’t tell which options we are now discussing,” he said. “There are options and we are discussing them.”

Pashinian said last month that despite the coronavirus outbreak he remains determined to replace the Constitutional Court judges who had been installed by Armenia’s previous governments. But he did not elaborate.

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