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Pashinian Calls For New Constitution


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

Armenia should adopt a new constitution that could abolish the country’s Constitutional Court, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Monday.

Pashinian insisted that wants to establish an “organic connection between the state order and the will of the people,” rather than cement his hold on power.

Most Armenians, he said, do not feel such a connection because they played no part in the enactment of their country’s post-Soviet constitution and numerous amendments to it made by their former governments.

“I’m not one of those people who think that the country’s constitutions should frequently undergo changes,” he told a government commission on constitutional reform formed early this year. “But I must also say that especially at this juncture I am of the opinion that we need to not just enact constitutional changes but to adopt a de jure new constitution.”

Pashinian stressed that the commission should not try to reverse Armenia’s transition to the parliamentary system of government which was controversially engineered by former President Serzh Sarkisian. It should work on other changes mostly relating to the judicial system, he said.

In particular, Pashinian suggested that the ad hoc panel “very seriously” consider drafting constitutional provisions that would merge the Constitutional Court with the Court of Cassation, Armenia’s highest body of criminal and administrative justice. He said that the two courts have offered different interpretations of Armenian laws on a number of occasions.

Over the past year, Pashinian has been at loggerheads with seven of the nine members of the Constitutional Court, accusing them of being linked to the former regime and impeding judicial reforms. The Constitutional Court chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian, has rejected those accusations, saying that the prime minister is simply seeking to gain control over the court.

In February, Pashinian’s government decided to hold a referendum on constitutional amendments that would replace Tovmasian and the six other judges. The referendum scheduled for April 5 was subsequently postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With no end in sight to the pandemic, the government is expected to cancel the vote altogether. Last month it asked the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe to help it end the standoff with the high court.

The government commission on constitutional reform was formed in January before Pashinian’s political team decided to hold the controversial referendum. It consists of 15 members, including Armenia’s justice minister, human rights ombudsman, a representative of the country’s judges, members of the three political forces represented in the parliament and legal scholars chosen by the Justice Ministry.

The commission chairman, Yeghishe Kirakosian, said in February that the panel will come up with a package of amendments and initiate “public discussions” on it by September 2020.

Kirakosian indicated on Monday that the process will take more time. He told Pashinian that the commission expects to draft “constitutional reforms” by June 2021.

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