Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Saturday cited the global COVID-19 crisis in announcing that a constitutional referendum scheduled for April 5 would be delayed indefinitely. He added that the government was discussing several options, including resolving the issue in the legislature, to emerge from what Armenia’s authorities see as a constitutional gridlock.
The referendum was scheduled to give the state the ability to remove Constitutional Court judges, including the chief justice Hrayr Tovmasyan, who were appointed by the previous regime and who Pashinyan and his government believe were still acting in the interests of the former leaders. The referendum was postponed after a state of emergency was declared to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday during a virtual press conference Pashinyan said that the issue would be resolved through various options, including a partial or complete resolution, which will be decided by parliament.
Armenia’s Justice Minister Ruslan Badasyan on Thursday asked the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe to suggest ways that Armenia would emerge from the “constitutional crisis.”
“As part of the referendum, we also planned to apply to the Venice Commission as a result of our discussions. But our prediction is that the coronavirus will exist in our reality for at least a year, which means that we cannot hold a referendum for at least a year because as we have stated the well-being of the public is of higher importance that a political issue,” Pashinyan said.
“Thus, it is impossible to hold a referendum during the coronavirus pandemic. But on the other hand, we cannot wait for the solution of the situation around the Constitutional Court, until the end of the coronavirus. Even if we wait, we have formed a commission on Constitutional amendments: constitutional amendments should take place in the future, and in this context we will resolve the issue according to conclusions by the parliament and may be put to a referendum in June 2021,” adde Pashinyan.
“But now we have applied to the Venice Commission, and the issue of solving the Constitutional Court crisis in the parliament with any formula, partially or completely, is being currently discussed,” said Pashinyan, who during the discussion of a referendum said on several occasions that seeking the counsel of the Venice Commission would not be necessary.
On Saturday he said that the pandemic had not deter the government from working with international partners in order to receive effective and also consensus-based solutions.