The deputies representing the opposition Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Bright Armenia (LHK) parties again challenged the legality of constitutional changes enacted by the parliament’s pro-government majority.
The changes call for the gradual resignation of seven of the Constitutional Court’s nine judges who have been locked in a standoff with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s political team. Three of them were to resign with immediate effect. Also, Hrayr Tovmasian had to quit as court chairman but remain a judge.
Tovmasian and the ousted judges refused to step down, saying that their removal is illegal and politically motivated. They appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to have them reinstated.
Despite the legal action, Pashinian, President Armen Sarkissian and a national convention of Armenian judges have each nominated a candidate to replace the ousted judges. Under the Armenian constitution, all new members of the Constitutional Court must be appointed by the parliament in secret ballot.
The National Assembly discussed the three candidacies ahead of the vote scheduled for Tuesday. The candidates held separate meetings with deputies from Pashinian’s My Step bloc prior to the parliament session. None of them met with the BHK’s and the LHK’s parliamentary groups, a fact deplored by the latter.
“I have been a member of the parliament since 2007 and can’t recall any other case of parliamentary opposition factions being ignored in this fashion,” said the BHK’s Naira Zohrabian.
Ruben Rubinian, a senior My Step lawmaker, criticized the opposition boycott. He also dismissed other critics’ claims that all three candidates for the vacant Constitutional Court seats were linked to Armenia’s former leadership in one way or another.
The candidates were asked tough questions by other pro-government lawmakers. One of the candidates, Yervand Khundkarian, has headed the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest body of criminal and administrative justice, for the last two years. He was nominated by fellow judges in early August.
According to media reports, the state Commission on the Prevention of Corruption has advised the parliament against appointing Khundkarian, citing his judicial track record.
Also, My Step’s Taguhi Tovmasian cited a 2013 report by the country’s former human rights ombudsman which accused Khundkarian of helping the former Armenian authorities suppress judicial independence. The nominee strongly denied that.
Another candidate, Artur Vagharshian, was picked by President Armen Sarkissian. Vagharshian is a chair of jurisprudence at Yerevan State University. Sarkissian already nominated him for a vacant seat in the Constitutional Court as recently as in May 2019. The parliament majority rejected his candidacy at the time.
Pro-government lawmakers were clearly unhappy with the president’s decision to again try to have Vagharshian appointed to the high court.