Intensity of demonstration of loyalty to Church by politicians distinguishes 2021 elections from other elections
The Democracy Research Institute has published a monitoring report on the participation of religious organizations and clergy in the pre-election campaign of the second round of the 2021 elections. The monitoring covers the period from October 2 to October 28. The document contains facts of participation of the clergy in the political processes. The monitoring revealed the importance of former President Mikheil Saakashvili's influence on both the election process and the clergy.
The arrival of Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia before the local self-government elections, which led to his arrest, made the involvement of the clergy in the political process even more intense. Along with the political statements made by the clergy, the leaders of the Georgian Dream and the United National Movement made a number of political statements to prove their loyalty to the Patriarch and the Church. Particular intensity of the demonstration of allegiance to the Church by political leaders is precisely the sign that distinguishes the 2021 election campaign from the elections of recent years. The idea of incorporating the Church in the foundation of the State and the special emphasis on the unity of the State and the Church by state-political officials have never been so intense in any of the pre-election campaigns.
Georgia is a multiethnic state with a diverse religious demographics. The Constitution of Georgia recognizes the independence of the State and the Church from each other. However, the statements by the Georgian Dream state-political officials blur the line between the State and the Church and call into question the idea of Georgia as a secular state.
The pre-election period was also characterized by the variability of positions by politicians in favor of the Church. The leaders of the National Movement had numerous attempts to prove their religiosity and loyalty to the Patriarch.
Two important findings were identified during monitoring. First, the arrival of Mikheil Saakashvili and the issue of his arrest-release caused a clear difference of opinion among the clergy and reinforced the existing opinion that the clergy were actively cooperating with political entities to retain power. Second, there was an attempt by election entities to manipulate moral and ethical issues, which is directly related to the practice of "using" the Church and religion.