Opposition lawmakers claimed that their pro-government colleagues elected Vahagn Hovakimian CEC chairman on October 7 in breach of a legal provision against conflicts of interest in Armenia’s parliament.
Hovakimian was until this month a senior member of Pashinian’s Civil Contract party. He 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.
Pashinian’s choice of the new CEC chief, announced in September, was strongly criticized by opposition and civic groups. They said that the appointment of a partisan a figure would call into question the proper conduct of Armenian elections.
The parliament’s pro-government majority dismissed these concerns before voting to install Hovakimian as CEC chairman. He was backed by 65 members of the 107-seat National Assembly, including himself, getting just enough votes.
Hovakimian remained a parliament deputy up until formally taking over on October 12 as head of the body conducting all elections and validating their results.
The two opposition blocs represented in the parliament say his decisive vote for himself violated an Armenian law that requires parliament deputies to publicly acknowledge a potential conflict of interest beforehand. They are planning to appeal to the Constitutional Court to declare the CEC chairman’s election null and void.
“First of all, there is an obvious conflict of interest,” said Taguhi Tovmasian of the Pativ Unem bloc. “He had no right to vote for himself. Parliament deputy Hovakimian could not have voted for candidate Hovakimian to become the head of an independent body.”
“For the first time [in Armenia’s history,] a party member became the head of an independent body,” complained Tovmasian. “This is unacceptable because this is the sole body that’s supposed to ensure the legality of elections and continuous democratic development in Armenia.”
Hovakimian denied that his vote in the parliament constituted a conflict of interest.
“I was elected also because I declared from the National Assembly podium how I will be acting to the benefit of the Republic of Armenia,” he said.