The Armenian parliament has adopted proposed changes to the constitution that would lead to the removal of Constitutional Court judges, potentially opening the door for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to exert more influence over the South Caucasian nation.
A total of 89 members of the National Assembly -- all affiliated with the ruling My Step bloc -- backed the draft constitutional amendments in the first and second readings on June 22.
The votes were boycotted by the two opposition parties represented in the 132-seat legislature -- the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and the Bright Armenia Party (LHK).
The draft changes, unveiled last week by the My Step bloc of Pashinian, would lead to the immediate dismissal of three of the nine Constitutional Court members.
It would also require the court to elect a new chairman.
The current court chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian, and six other judges have been under strong government pressure to step down over the past year.
Pashinian has accused them of maintaining close ties to the country’s former government and impeding his judicial reforms. The seven judges have refused to quit.
12-Year Term Limit
Tovmasian and opposition figures dismissed Pashinian’s claims and in turn accused the prime minister of seeking to take control of the Constitutional Court.
Under the proposed amendments, the current and future Constitutional Court judges would be barred from serving more than 12 years.
The 12-year term limit was already included in the constitution which took effect in April 2018, but it didn’t apply to the judges already serving.
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The draft changes approved by parliament would eliminate a clause in the amended constitution allowing these judges to retain their positions until reaching retirement age.
The move would trigger the immediate resignation of three judges who had taken the bench in the mid-1990s. Two other Constitutional Court members would have to resign in 2022. Tovmasian would have to quit as court chairman but would remain one of the nine justices.
In an opinion made public on June 22, the Venice Commission largely backed the proposed changes to the constitution, but said it “regrets” that the proposed amendments do not provide for a transitional period that would “allow for a gradual change in the composition of the court in order to avoid any abrupt and immediate change endangering the independence of this institution.”
The Strasbourg-based Venice Commission also said that My Step should not rush to have Tovmasian replaced by another Constitutional Court chairman.