A government-backed bill meant to complete the controversial dismissal of three of the nine members of Armenia’s Constitutional Court came into force on Wednesday three weeks after being passed by the parliament.
President Armen Sarkissian has pointedly declined to sign the bill into law, leaving it to parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan to do that. Sarkissian has not explained his refusal to validate the legislation strongly condemned by the Armenian opposition.
Mirzoyan, who is a leading member of the ruling My Step bloc, signed it immediately after the end of a three-week period given by the Armenian constitution to the largely ceremonial head of state.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian swiftly announced Mirzoyan’s move on his Facebook page. “Three new Constitutional Court judges will be elected soon,” he wrote.
The National Assembly controlled by My Step passed the bill on June 30 one week after voting to amend the constitution. The amendments require the gradual resignation of seven members of the high court installed before April 2018.
Three of them are to resign with immediate effect. Also, Hrayr Tovmasian must quit as court chairman but remain a judge.
Tovmasian and the ousted judges have refused to step down, saying that their removal is illegal. They have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to have them reinstated.
Tovmasian and six other court justices have been under strong government pressure to step down over the past year. Pashinian has accused them of maintaining close ties to Armenia’s former government and impeding his judicial reforms. Tovmasian and opposition figures have dismissed Pashinian’s claims and in turn accused the prime minister of seeking to take control of the country’s highest court.
Under Armenian law, the three new Constitutional Court members are to be nominated by Pashinian’s government, President Sarkissian and an assembly of the country’s judges and appointed by the parliament. The nine court justices will then pick their new chairperson.
Justice Minister Rustam Badasian told reporters that the government has yet to choose its candidate to fill one of the three vacancies. He said that in any case it will nominate an “apolitical individual who can guarantee judicial independence.”