Salome Zurabishvili has won Georgia’s presidential election, becoming the first female to hold the office. With nearly all votes counted, the French-born ex-diplomat had 59% of the vote with rival Grigol Vashadze on 40.5%.
Preliminary results show Zurabishvili defeated Grigol Vashadze by 59.5% to 40.5% in Wednesday’s runoff, with almost all votes counted, Georgia’s Central Election Commission reported on its website. She is the first woman to be elected as president.
Zurabishvili was backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party while Vashadze was a united opposition candidate. A new constitution is due to come into force, making the role of president largely ceremonial.
The former Soviet republic richest man. Vashadze, 60, who alleged widespread fraud during the election, led an opposition coalition dominated by the United National Movement of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili. Ivanishvili formed Georgian Dream to oust the UNM from power in 2012, prompting Saakashvili, who led the 2003 Rose Revolution, to flee into exile after prosecutors brought charges for alleged abuse of authority.
Zurabishvili, a former foreign minister, stirred controversy early in her campaign by blaming Saakashvili for Georgia’s 2008 war with Russia over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. She later clarified that she viewed Russia as the “aggressor,” while accusing Saakashvili of giving in to provocations from Moscow.
Zurabishvili, 66, was born in Paris after her parents fled Georgia in 1921 following its annexation by Soviet forces. She took up a career in the French foreign service and was posted to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, as ambassador in 2003. She later gave up her post and the then-president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, appointed her foreign minister.
Zurabishvili will serve a six-year term, instead of the current five. In 2024, the president will be chosen by a 300-member electoral college made up of members of parliament and local government representatives, with the term reverting to five years.
Zurabishvili has said she favours balancing Georgia’s relations with Russia and the West. Vashadze who was foreign minister during the 2008 conflict between Georgia and Russia – was seen as more pro-Western.