Vote of Confidence: New ombudsman’s candidacy gets overwhelming support in parliament ballot

Armenia’s National Assembly, with 96 votes for, and seven against, by a secret ballot elected Arman Tatoyan as Armenia’s fourth Ombudsman.

“Assuming the office of the Ombudsman, by being faithful to the Constitution and laws, the principles of social coexistence and justice, I swear to protect human and civil rights and freedoms,” said the newly elected Tatoyan.

Tatoyan, 34, until now served as deputy minister of justice. The Western-educated lawyer was nominated for the post by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA).

After the constitutional changes, the candidate of the Ombudsman needed the support of at least 79 lawmakers, which is three fifth of the RPA-dominated chamber. And in spite of the criticism against him voiced in the National Assembly, Tatoyan collected more votes than previous human rights defenders. Being the government’s candidates, Armen Harutyunyan received 87 votes, Karen Andreasyan – 83, while Tatoyan’s candidacy was backed by 96 out of the 131 members of parliament.

The National Assembly elects the Ombudsman for a six-year term.

After the election, answering questions by journalists, the Ombudsman promised to visit Vardges Gaspari, an imprisoned human rights activist, and Gevorg Safaryan, a member of the opposition New Armenia movement, adding that he had not yet had the opportunity to learn more about their cases.

“Dear journalists, you can see that I was here every day and I have not had a chance to get acquainted with the cases in detail physically, but it is a question raised by MPs, and it will certainly has to be addressed,” said Tatoyan.

Before voting, the RPA and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) party announced that they will support the candidate of the Ombudsman. MPs representing the Orinats Yerkir and the Prosperous Armenia (PAP) parties voted freely, while the Armenian National Congress (ANC) faction did not participate in the vote, except its nominal member Nikol Pashinyan, who previously announced that he was going to vote for Tatoyan.

Addressing the newly elected Human Rights Defender, Levon Zurabyan, the head of the ANC faction, said: “Most likely, the regime had put forward your candidacy, being sure that it has all the necessary levers to influence you. This means that you will defend human rights in the country right up to the border, where you face the rights of a very specific person. Let me tell you, however, you can make a choice, not to serve President Serzh Sargsyan, but serve democracy.”

Naira Zohrabyan, the head of the PAP faction, said that the government will do everything to make Tatoyan become the one, who expresses the former’s will.

“The opposition will try to do everything to shape a Rambo out of you by ‘opposition sauce’. It will be your choice. Will you be able not to be taken hostage by these two poles, be really able to resist this global pressure? In that case we will be able to speak about your impartiality and establishment of this institution,” said Zohrabyan.

In the Committee on State and Legal Affairs, three people had been named for a candidate for Ombudsperson later to be voted for by the National Assembly’s full chamber. But the two other nominations, including staunch government critic Zaruhi Postanjyan’s did not collect enough votes in the committee.

The Ombudsman’s post was vacant after the resignation of Karen Andreasyan last month. Andreasyan did not give clear reasons for the move, but some opposition members have alleged he had come under strong government pressure over his activities. Members of the ruling Republican Party have denied any pressure or influence on the former ombudsman.