YEREVAN — Armenia’s parliament decided on Thursday to hold a referendum on constitutional changes that would dismiss seven of the nine members of the Constitutional Court locked in a bitter dispute with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government.
They would be replaced by other judges to be confirmed by the current 132-member National Assembly in which Pashinyan’s My Step bloc holds 88 seats.
The decision was unanimously backed by virtually all My Step deputies. Lawmakers representing the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK) voted against it while their colleagues from the other parliamentary opposition party, Prosperous Armenia (BHK), did not vote at all.
My Step’s Vahagn Hovakimyan, who presented the draft amendments during the parliament debate, said that the Constitutional Court is Armenia’s least trusted state institution.
Addressing the National Assembly shortly before the vote, Pashinyan also strongly defended the amendments rejected as unconstitutional by opposition deputies. He again accused Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasyan and six other judges installed by former Armenian governments from 1995-2018 of being linked to the “corrupt former regime.”
“The Constitutional Court represents the corrupt regime of [former President] Serzh Sarkisian, rather than the people, and it must go,” he declared.
Pashinyan also claimed that Armenia’s highest court “limits the people’s power” and poses a “terrible and direct threat to democracy.” Its legal powers must therefore be superseded by “sovereign rights of the people,” he said.
Pashinyan went on to warn his political opponents against attempting to thwart the constitutional changes through legal or other mechanisms, saying that they would be declared “anti-state” elements in that case.