YEREVAN — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s My Step bloc has drafted constitutional changes that would dismiss seven of the nine members of Armenia’s Constitutional Court locked in a bitter dispute with the government.
The amendments were unveiled on Wednesday one day before an emergency session of the Armenian parliament which will discuss a separate My Step bill limiting the court’s powers.
They call for the replacement of the court’s embattled chairman, Hrayr Tovmasyan, and six other judges who were installed by the former Armenian governments.
An explanatory note released by 37 co-sponsors of the proposed changes argues that they are not covered by the 2015 constitutional changes envisaging shorter tenures for new members of the country’s highest court. It also claims that the court lacks “democratic legitimacy.”
“The three branches of government in Armenia were usurped by the former authorities: [former Presidents] Serzh Sarkisian and Robert Kocharian and their satellites,” said deputy parliament speaker Alen Simonyan.
“The people of Armenia liberated the government and the National Assembly from their claws and they are now going to liberate the judicial system as well,” he added, referring to the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” that toppled Sarkisian and brought Pashinyan to power.
While newly elected judges serve for 12 years, the previously appointed members, who have been appointed under the 1995 Constitution (two members) will serve in office until 70 years of age, while judges appointed by the 2005 Constitution (5 members) until 65 years of age. In other words, one Constitutional Court member can be in office in this judicial composition for 33 years (from 1996 to 2029), while a newly elected judge is limited to 12 years in office
Tovmasyan has faced in recent months growing government pressure to resign, with the ruling political team accusing him of maintaining ties to the “corrupt former regime” and impeding judicial reforms. Prosecutors charged him in late December with abusing his powers when serving as justice minister from 2010-2014.
Earlier in December, the parliament passed a government bill offering Tovmasyan and the six other Constitutional Court judges financial incentives to retire before the end of their mandate. None of them has accepted the offer so far.
The parliament may debate the amendments as early as on Thursday. The official agenda of its extraordinary session, approved by the parliament leadership after repeated delays on Wednesday evening, includes a package of other legal amendments also drafted by the ruling bloc. They would allow the 132-member National Assembly, in which My Step holds 88 seats, to bypass the Constitutional Court to amend the constitution.
Under existing Armenian laws, the high court has to examine and validate any constitutional changes before they can be put on a referendum or be passed by the National Assembly.