Vahagn Hovakimian, a senior lawmaker representing the ruling Civil Contract party, was backed by 65 members of the 107-seat National Assembly, including himself, in a vote boycotted by the opposition. The parliament also installed six other members of the CEC.
Hovakimian will formally take over the body conducting all elections in Armenia and validating their results on October 12.
The 48-year-old is a former journalist who worked for Pashinian’s Haykakan Zhamanak daily from 1998 to 2012. Pashinian hired him as a parliamentary assistant after being first elected to the National Assembly in 2012. Hovakimian became a parliament deputy in 2019.
Pashinian’s choice of the new CEC chief has been strongly criticized by opposition and civic groups. Opposition leaders have said that the prime minister is seeking complete and direct control over electoral process.
In a joint statement issued earlier this week, 17 Armenian nongovernmental organizations warned that Hovakimian’s appointment would call into question the proper conduct of Armenian elections. They said that he is a partisan figure who cannot guarantee the CEC’s “independence and political impartiality.”
Hovakimian, who terminated his membership in the ruling party last week, dismissed this criticism. He said that in his new capacity he will not be influenced by his long-standing ties with Pashinian.
“If I engage, as CEC chairman, in any political activities or … break the law to the benefit of my former party comrades the issue of my dismissal must be raised in the parliament,” Hovakimian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Asked whether he believes pro-government lawmakers could do that, he said: “No, it could be raised by the opposition.”
Over the last three years Hovakimian has co-sponsored major bills which critics say are aimed at helping Pashinian tighten his hold on power. In particular, Hovakimian was one of the authors of controversial 2020 constitutional changes that led to the dismissal of Constitutional Court judges at loggerheads with the government.
Opposition lawmakers charged at the time that the parliament approved the changes in breach of legal procedures for amending the constitution. Hovakimian and other Pashinian allies denied breaking the law.