A candidate nominated by the government for the post of a Constitutional Court judge has withdrawn his candidacy.
In a Facebook post on Monday Vahram Avetisian, who was named one of three candidates last month, wrote: “Today I have submitted an application to the parliament speaker withdrawing my consent to being elected judge of the Constitutional Court. At the same time, I thank the government for nominating me for the post. I wish every success for the judicial reforms being carried out in the Republic of Armenia for the benefit of Armenian citizens and our Homeland.”
The nomination of Avetisian, a senior law professor at Yerevan State University, has been criticized by a number of human rights activists, lawyers, as well as by relatives of protesters killed during the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan and supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
Eight relatives of the unrest victims and 50 current and former activists imprisoned during the 2008 crackdown on the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition issued a joint petition urging the government to withdraw Avetisian’s nomination.
In particular, the signatories, among them several senior members of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress party, argued that his father, Davit Avetisian, upheld prison sentences handed to opposition members and supporters when he served as a senior Court of Cassation judge in 2008-2016.
They said that Vahram Avetisian cannot act independently and impartially also because he has never publicly condemned Armenia’s former ruling regime and its use of force against protesters who challenged the official results of the February 2008 presidential election in which Ter-Petrosian was the main opposition candidate.
In his statement today Avetisian said that he made his decision to withdraw after apparent disagreements with some representatives of the pro-government My Step faction in parliament that came to light during recent discussions.
“One of the main tasks of our state is to establish an independent judiciary staffed with professional judges who administer independent, accountable, predictable justice and enjoy public authority. This is a problem without solving which the state and the society have no prospects for development,” Avetisian said.
“It was my desire to contribute to the solution to these problems that made me accept the nomination to run for the post of a Constitutional Court judge. However, it became clear to me from my meeting with My Step faction members and further discussions that some of the lawmakers’ approaches and ideas on the role of the Constitutional Court, the apolitical nature and independence of a Constitutional Court judge are not in line with my views and in some cases are even unacceptable to me,” he added.
In order to be elected Constitutional Court judge a candidate should receive the support of at least three-fifths of deputies in the 132-seat National Assembly where My Step has 88 mandates.
Avetisian said that in such conditions he considered it unrealistic that he would receive the required 80 votes and that further he did not think that it would be expedient for him to serve as a Constitutional Court judge even if he did that.
Meanwhile, Deputy Parliament Speaker Alen Simonian insisted that the government has not yet withdrawn Avetisian’s candidacy.
“I think that in conditions of issues related to opinions being expressed on the internet, in the media and in different places, Mr. Avetisian had some impression, which is why he made such a statement. But let’s not forget that he is a candidate nominated by the government. The government has not withdrawn his candidacy yet, and My Step has not taken a vote and has not made any announcement of a vote,” Simonian said.
Opposition Bright Armenia faction member Taron Simonian (no relation to the deputy parliament speaker) said he regretted Avetisian’s decision as he considers him a worthy candidate. He said Avetisian’s step was a message to professionals not to deal with the government. “I have no precise information on how many deputies came out against him, but there was some information that his candidacy was not accepted unequivocally in the My Step faction. When politicians take such an attitude towards professionals, the rest of the professionals start avoiding becoming government officials, they prefer working in the private sector,” the opposition lawmaker said.
Vacancies in the Constitutional Court emerged after three Court members were controversially dismissed in June following changes in the constitution adopted by the National Assembly.
The two other candidates have been nominated by Armenian President Armen Sarkissian and a general assembly of judges. They are also expected to hold meetings with lawmakers before having their candidacies discussed and voted on in parliament.