If you thought judicial appointments were an explosive issue in the United States, just look at Armenia, where over the past year, the government of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has declared war on Armenia’s senior judges. Most recently, Pashinyan has called a popular referendum for April 5 to remove seven of the nine judges on the Constitutional Court, whom he accuses of blocking his reform agenda.
The government sees this as a last-ditch measure to clean up a corrupt justice system that Pashinyan inherited from former President Serzh Sargsyan. For the judges, it is an assault by politicians on the rule of law. In an unusual statement last month, the president of the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s venerable advisory body on constitutional law, called on both sides “to exercise restraint and to de-escalate this worrying situation in order to ensure the normal operation of the constitution of Armenia.”
The clash between executive and judicial branches of government is most visible in Armenia, but similar conflicts are unfolding in other post-Soviet states. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine now routinely deliver one prerequisite for a modern democracy, by holding mostly free and fair elections. But another democratic pillar—the rule of law, or the creation of a justice system that citizens can trust to hold the executive branch accountable—has proved much more difficult to achieve.