RELIGIOUS FACTORS IN GEORGIAN POLITICS
(THE 2008 GENERAL ELECTIONS)

Salome DUNDUA


Salome Dundua, Ph.D. (Political Science), Professor at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (Tbilisi, Georgia)


Introduction

Georgia has always been, and remains, part of the Christian Orthodox world, which means that the use of religion as a political instrument should not shock anyone.

Indeed, in the context of the struggling economy, the civil institutions are unable to inculcate democratic consciousness, without which a single civil expanse is impossible. The Church, sporadically aided by political actors, has shouldered the responsibility for performing at least some of the functions of these institutions.

In recent years, the Churchs stronger role in the countrys political, social, and spiritual life has been reflected in the results of the elections at the local and national levels. The religious factor is rapidly gathering political hues, a fact clearly demonstrated by the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2008.

Below I shall rely on the returns of the March 2008 sociological poll to identify the extent to which the religious factors affected the election results and the role of the Georgian Orthodox Church in the countrys social life.

My conclusions are based on scrupulous analysis of the polls results.

The 2008 Elections and General Political Priorities

Georgias recent history is brimming with political, social, and economic events, however the year 2008, which brought the Russian-Georgian armed conflict in August and the presidential and parliamentary elections, will occupy a special place in the annals of history. The pre-term elections were spurred on by the well-known events of 7 November, 2007, after which the president set the date for an off-year presidential election, while the nations majority voted for the early parliamentary elections.

The 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections gathered the largest number of candidates in the history of independent Georgia, therefore the outcome was anybodys guess. The large number of candidates and political entities involved and the relative balance of forces at the presidential (January 2008) and parliamentary (May 2008) elections created the illusion of stiff competition. All the political entities tried to capitalize on the fairly strenuous political situation created by the election campaign (not the easiest of periods at the best of times) and the legitimacy crisis of the government, which had lost the trust of a large part of the nation.

Here I shall discuss the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections as one process since their political vectors, all things considered, coincided.

Seven candidates ran for president; 12 political parties and alliances competed for seats in parliament. It should be said that the political vectors of all the candidates and parties involved were practically the same, even though some of the slogans of the presidential election were replaced with new ones. Mikhail Saakashvili, who in January ran for president under the slogan Georgia without Poverty, in May offered the slogan Less Words, More Deeds.

It should be said that Shalva Natelashvilis election program in January was absolutely identical to the program with


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