Chairperson of Central Election Commission (CEC), Tamar Zhvania, has dismissed complaints against a high-ranking cleric from the Georgian Orthodox Church in which he was accused of violating election code when he weighed in election campaign with a sermon ahead of the second round of local elections last month.
In his July 6 sermon in the Holy Trinity Cathedral Bishop Jakob, who is one of the three deputies of head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, slammed UNM opposition party and called on the voters to go to second round of local elections on July 12 to “reject” those who, as he put it, “are not repenting for what they have done to the country” when they were in power.
The Georgian election code prohibits election campaigning by religious organizations. According to the election code, violation of rules of campaigning carries financial penalty in an amount of GEL 2,000 (about USD 1,130).
Several election observer and human rights groups said at the time that bishop Jakob’s statements amounted to election campaigning, which was a violation of the law, and called on the CEC to study the case.
In a letter to CEC, bishop Jakob, who usually delivers sermons in the Holy Trinity Cathedral when the Patriarch is absent, argued that remarks were made in his capacity of an individual clergyman, not representing the Church as a whole.
Patriarch’s deputies, according to the constitutional agreement between the Georgian Orthodox Church and the state, represent the Church without requiring any additional authorization.
According to CEC spokesperson, CEC chair accepted bishop Jakob’s argument that he was acting in his individual capacity without representing the Patriarchate at the time of the sermon and therefore does not believe the election code was violated.