On February 24, the Democracy Research Institute presented a report "Monitoring of the Participation of Religious Organizations and Clergy in the Pre-Election Process."
The document covers both the participation of the clergy in the pre-election campaign of the 2021 local self-government elections and the manipulation of religious themes, the Orthodox Church and the influence of high-ranking clerics by the electoral entities, which drew the attention of social and online media.
The report also analyzes the changed rhetoric of the clergy and political entities caused by the release of secret recordings, which allegedly had been obtained illegally, and the return of Mikheil Saakashvili to Georgia a few weeks before the 2021 elections.
The monitoring showed that part of the clergy and political entities using the authority of the Church "nurture" each other. The behavior of the clergy is probably caused by their "economic interest", while some of the political parties need close cooperation with the Church and demonstration of loyalty to it in order attract voters. This jeopardizes the idea of independence of a state from the church and the principle of secularism.
Three important findings of the monitoring are as follows:
First, the ruling political force and the Georgian Patriarchate, represented by high-ranking clerics, cooperated closely with each other during the pre-election campaign. In particular:
- The clergy attended all the nominations of the ruling party candidates running for the City Assembly and self-government/mayoral elections.
- Leaders of the ruling party, led by Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, visited churches and monasteries during the pre-election campaign, which had not been a common practice in previous years.
- The clergy spread statements in support of/against certain political forces on social media.
Second, Mikheil Saakashvili’s arrival in Georgia shortly before the local elections and his arrest caused a clear difference of opinion among the clergy and reinforced the view that they work with political entities to maintain power.
Third, 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. The release of alleged illegal secret recordings during the reporting period strengthened the existing suspicions that the clergy were being wiretapped and controlled, which is an opportunity for the ruling political force to manipulate the clergy.
The organization considers that in order to eliminate the above-mentioned problems, it is necessary for religious organizations/clergy to refrain from participating in the pre-election campaign and for political entities not to use them to influence the will of the voters.
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The preparation of the report was made possible with the support of the Open Society Foundation.