Georgia Elects Salome Zurabishvili as First Female President

Georgia has elected ruling party candidate Salome Zurabishvili as its first woman president, final results showed on Thursday.

With all votes counted, the French-born ex-diplomat had taken 59.52 percent of the vote in on Wednesday’s second round run-off, the election commission said.

Her rival Grigol Vashadze, from an alliance of 11 opposition parties led by exiled ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM), won 40.48 percent.

The election was seen as a test of Georgia’s democratic credentials as the Caucasus nation seeks European Union and NATO membership.

It was also a trial run for more important parliamentary elections in 2020 when the ruling Georgian Dream party is set to face off against a range of opposition parties, AFP writes.

Georgian Dream — the creation of billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili who many see as the country’s de facto ruler — backed Zurabishvili in the presidential vote.

But Ivanishvili’s great rival, the flamboyant ex-president Saakashvili, claimed “mass electoral fraud” even before official results were released.

“The oligarch has stamped out Georgian democracy and the institutions of elections,” he said on the pro-opposition Rustavi-2 television channel, referring to Ivanishvili.

“I urge Georgians to defend our freedom, democracy, and the law. I call on you to start mass peaceful rallies and demand snap parliamentary polls.”

Saakashvili swept to power in 2004 in a mass protest movement known as the Rose Revolution but, after a disastrous 2008 war with Russia, fled the country in 2013 and has since been stripped of his citizenship.

He was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison for abuse of office, charges he rejects as politically motivated. He now lives in the Netherlands.

Tensions increased ahead of the second round as the opposition accused the government of voter intimidation and claimed that ruling party activists had attacked Vashadze campaign staff.

Zurabishvili, in turn, said she and her children had received death threats through text and voice messages from people affiliated with the UNM.

A smooth presidential transition, however, would be welcomed by many as a sign of stability in Georgia, which is emerging as a tourism hotspot and hopes for more foreign investment.

The vote was Georgia’s last direct leadership poll as it transitions to a parliamentary form of governance.

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