YEREVAN (RFE/RL)— Amid strong opposition objections, the Armenian parliament approved on Monday, June 22, constitutional changes calling for the immediate dismissal of three of the nine members of the country’s Constitutional Court.
The amendments drafted by the ruling My Step bloc would also require the court to elect a new chairman. Hrayr Tovmasyan, the current chairman who has been at loggerheads with the Armenian government for the past year, would not have to resign from the court altogether.
Tovmasyan and six other judges have been under strong government pressure to step down, with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accusing them of maintaining close ties to the country’s former government and impeding judicial reforms. Tovmasyan and opposition figures have dismissed these claims, saying that Pashinyan is simply seeking to gain control over the Constitutional Court.
With all seven judges refusing to quit, the ruling political team decided in February to hold a referendum on its bid to oust them. The referendum slated for April 5 was subsequently postponed and then cancelled altogether because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In May, Pashinyan’s administration opted for a less radical solution to the “constitutional crisis” which would bar all high court judges from serving for more than 12 years.
Such term limits were already set by amendments to the Armenian constitution which took effect in April 2018. However, the country’s former leadership made sure that they do not apply to those judges who were installed prior to that. A clause in the amended constitution allowed them to retain their positions until reaching retirement age.