About two months after the dismissal of three judges of the Constitutional Court (CC) and the termination of powers of its head an opposition faction in the Armenian parliament has turned to the High Court disputing the constitutionality of the process.
In June, pro-government lawmakers came up with a bill that makes a change in a constitutional law resulting in the immediate dismissal of all CC judges who have served 12 years in office. It also envisaged that Hrair Tovmasian would be dismissed from his post of the CC chairman but would continue to serve as a judge.
The bill was passed due to the votes of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step faction that has a commanding majority in the National Assembly. The opposition Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia parties opted out of the vote, calling the process unconstitutional.
Armenian President Armen Sarkissian pointedly declined to sign the bill into law, leaving it to Parliament Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan to do that. Mirzoyan, who is a leading member of the ruling My Step bloc, signed it in July, immediately after the end of a three-week period given by the Armenian constitution to the largely ceremonial head of state to sign bills.
Still in June Prosperous Armenia came up with an initiative to seek the annulment of the amendments at the Constitutional Court, but Bright Armenia refused to immediately second the initiative, citing a pending case involving former President Robert Kocharian that was to be heard at the Constitutional Court in July. As a result, Prosperous Armenia was just one signature short of having its application accepted by the Court.
Bright Armenia lawmaker Taron Simonian thinks that even now it is not too late for the CC to examine their application and declare the process unconstitutional. “The changes have already entered into force, and it is a continuous process, that is, the process of replenishment will take place, but it does not prevent the Constitutional Court from deciding to declare this whole process null and void, and then everything will start from scratch,” he said.
Simonian explained that since the consideration of Kocharian’s application at the CC has been postponed indefinitely, the faction saw no obstacle to applying to the High Court.
Bright Armenia claims that the termination of the CC chairman’s powers and the dismissal of judges Alvina Gyulumian, Hrant Nazarian and Felix Tokhian were carried out illegally and that in doing so the National Assembly exceeded its constitutional powers as the bill was to have been sent to the Constitutional Court for its opinion before the second reading. “The parliamentary factions have been deprived of the right to hear the professional opinion of the High Court,” Simonyan said.
“We want the article of the National Assembly Regulations, which reserves the discretionary right of the National Assembly to apply or not to apply to the Constitutional Court, to be recognized unconstitutional, because if you read that article, it is not immediately clear whether the National Assembly has the right to apply or not to apply over that constitutional issue. Meanwhile, it is clear from the content of Articles 168 and 169 of the Constitution that the National Assembly must apply and that it has no discretionary right in this process,” the opposition lawmaker stressed.
My Step lawmaker Vladimir Vardanian, who heads the parliament’s committee on state and legal affairs, said he had not yet read the opposition faction’s application, but insisted that one fifth of the deputies is not authorized to challenge constitutional amendments at the Constitutional Court.
“One should not try to manipulate it, trying to mix different powers of the Constitutional Court, without understanding in which case an entity can submit such applications to the Constitutional Court,” Vardanian said.
According to Bright Armenia, also unconstitutional was that President Sarkissian was deprived of the authority to sign and publish the constitutional amendments. But the pro-government MP reminds that the legislative change under which that right was reserved for the chairman of the National Assembly was signed personally by President Sarkissian.
“If the president of the republic had doubts about the constitutionality of those changes, he should have applied to the Constitutional Court,” Vardanian said.
Signatures of one fifth of all deputies, i.e. 27 deputies, are required to apply to the Constitutional Court. Bright Armenia’s Simonian said that they had gathered even more than required as members of the other opposition Prosperous Armenia faction also joined the initiative.
It is not clear when the Constitutional Court will consider whether it accepts the application for consideration or not. Chief of CC Staff Edgar Ghazarian said that no hearings have been held at the High Court since June 30 due to lack of quorum.
At this moment, the nine-member court has only six judges, which is sufficient for convening a session, but judges Tovmasyan and Arevik Petrosian have not attended sessions since June. The process of the appointment of three new judges whose candidacies are to be voted on in parliament is currently underway. It is expected to be completed in the fall.