The ruling Civil Contract Party has moved to appoint three close allies to chair Armenia’s Electoral Commission and as members of the Supreme Judicial Council, indpendent institutions meant to remain free from political influence.
On Wednesday, Justice Minister Karen Andreasyan stepped down and was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Council. Deputy Justice Minister Eranuhi Tumantsyan followed suit the following day.
Andreasyan has not denied media reports that he would be elected to chair the council, saying he ‘might be’ since the post is currently vacant.
The council has been at the centre of much of the political turmoil in Armenia since the 2018 revolution brought Civil Contract to power, with it’s former head being charged with misuse of power amidsts attempts to reform the judiciary.
The appointments come just days after on 3 October, Vahagn Hovakimyan, an MP from Civil Contract, announced the party would nominate him to head the Central Electoral Commission.
Hovakimyan announced he had resigned from Civil Contract and was stepping down as an MP as a result.
According to the Armenian constitution, ‘members of the Central Electoral Commission may not, during their terms of powers, hold membership in any political party or otherwise engage in political activities.’
The tenure of the current head of the Electoral Commission, Tigran Mukuchyan, who has held the position for 11 years, ends in December.
While the ruling party has attempted to justify the appointments, they have been met by criticism among many in civil society.
The pre-revolution government itself was seen criticising the same actions of Armenia’s previous authorities.
Daniel Ioannisyan, a Yerevan-based democracy advocate and project coordinator at the Union of Informed Citizens, told OC Media that no chair of the Electoral Comission had been a member of the ruling party since 1995.
‘The appointment of Karen Andreasyan is also problematic, given the fact he applied for the Civil Contract membership after being appointed minister, but electing someone whose whole life was connected to the party or the leader of party, is not acceptable’, he said, adding that he could not think of any country that had such a practice.
Hovakimyan has had a long history working with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, for over a decade as a journalist in his Haykakan Zhamanak daily before being appointed his parliamentary assistant in 2012.
Aleksanyan played an active role in Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party from its foundation in 2013.
‘Neither the former presidents Robert Kocharyan nor Serzh Sargsyan went as low as appointing their party members on that post’, Ioannisyan told OC Media.
‘The Electoral Commission is the arbiter for the competition between political forces, and someone who has been an active member of a certain party, and whose whole career successes were thanks to the leader of that party, cannot be impartial’.
The Union of Informed Citizens is one of the signatories of a joint statement released on Tuesday by over two dozen Armenian NGOs ‘strongly condemning’ the decision to elect Hovakimyan as chair of the electoral commission.
The group’s stated that the decision was ‘extremely unacceptable’ and that ‘his appointment does not contribute to the freedom and fairness of next elections and jeopardises the main institutional achievement of the 2018 velvet revolution’.
Ioannisyan also mentioned that the appointment of Hovakimyan had ‘ideological’ contradictions with the reforms of the Electoral Code and the goals set to be achieved by those reforms.
Hovakimyam himself was part of the team working on the electoral reforms.
Civil Contract spokesperson Vahagn Aleksanyan responded that the party had ‘no doubts’ about his impartiality.