The Democracy Research Institute has published an interim report on the participation of religious organizations and clergy in the pre-election campaign. The report reflects facts and events that took place in the period from August 1, 2021 to October 4, 2021; Consequently, the report does not analyze the political statements made by the clergy regarding the arrest of former President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Despite the 2012 decision of the Synod, which categorically prohibits the participation of the clergy in the political event of any party during the pre-election period, clergymen were traditionally active during the 2021 local self-government election campaign.
During the reporting period, the clergy attended all the election events of the ruling party candidates in the regions and made numerous statements in support of or against election entities.
Since the appointment of the 2021 local self-government elections, the visits of members of the ruling party to the temples and chapels of the Georgian Orthodox Church have become especially intensive. From the day of the appointment of elections, Irakli Gharibashvili together with his party members mainly visited the churches-monasteries, the construction-rehabilitation of which was financed by the Cartu Foundation. Pilgrimage by the Prime Minister of Georgia is a new trend, which was not observed during the 2020 parliamentary election campaign.
Another feature that distinguishes the 2021 local self-government election campaign from the 2020 parliamentary elections is the altered and rigid rhetoric of clergymen. During the parliamentary elections, the clergymen maintained that they spoke as laymen.
However, until the day of the local self-government elections, Head of the Public Relations Unit of the Patriarchate, Andria Jaghmaidze, openly stated that they might call upon the parishioners about how to act in the elections.
Such a call is an attempt to manipulate some members of the society with the church’s power and authority and, in general, disregard the autonomy of the will of an individual, which may lead to the violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right (freedom of choice).
The following clergymen were particularly active during the election campaign for local self-government: Bishop Iacob of Bodbe, Archpriest Elioz Jincharadze, Archpriest Andria Jaghmaidze, Metropolitan Anthony of Vani and Baghdati, Archimandrite Bartholomew Pirtskhalashvili, and Metropolitan Dimitri Shiolashvili.
In summary, during the pre-election campaign, the ruling political force and the Georgian Patriarchate, represented by high-ranking clergymen, cooperate closely in several forms:
- Clergymen attending election campaign events - from 11 August to 14 September 2021, high-ranking clergymen attended all events held by the ruling party for the nominations of Sakrebulo candidates and candidates for self-governing cities/self-governing mayors;
- High-ranking clergymen attended all events concerning the nominations by the ruling party’s candidates for Sakrebulo and self-governing cities/self-governing mayors;
- The tradition of high-ranking political officials praying with clergymen at churches and monasteries intensifies particularly. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister, together with the President of the Parliament, visited 10 temples and monasteries and prayed. Some of them are funded by the Cartu Foundation, which was mentioned in all cases;
- High-ranking clergymen try to discredit the opposition and/or support openly and publicly the ruling party and its candidates;
- Similar to the ruling party, the leaders of United National Movement, Alliance of Georgian Patriots, Lelo and Gakharia for Georgia try to manipulate religious issues. However, except on rare occasions, clergymen do not attend election events of these political entities; and
- The Patriarchate of Georgia never openly criticised the Georgian Dream Government for the wiretap files of the State Security Service. Their attack was aimed not at those who ordered covert operations but those who “disseminated the files”, including the disapproving media outlets and their owners.
DRI believes that the attempt by political actors to use the influence of religious organisations and particular clergymen is a vicious practice that negatively affects election results.