With 59.7% of the votes Georgian Dream (GD) supported candidate, Salome Zurabishvili, has won the presidential elections in a runoff against the United National Movement (UNM) opposition candidate, Grigol Vashadze. The Central Election Commission confirmed the result and said that the turnout was 56% which is 9% higher than in the first round. Zurabishvili already claimed the victory as soon as the exit polls were announced on election day. The reaction of (informal) UNM leader Mikheil Saakashvili did not take long. After the announcement of the exit polls Saakashvili claimed that ‘mass electoral fraud’ took place and that the election process was not a democratic process. He called upon the people in Georgia to not recognize the result and begin mass protests. His party, UNM, while sharing some of his criticism did not share his call. In reaction to Saakashvili’s remarks Vashadze during his press-conference said “what has not been taken through our collective decision and has not been announced from this podium, remains to be one person’s individual position.” UNM is scheduled to have a party meeting today, to discuss further action.
First female president of Georgia
It is the first time in Georgia’s history a second round was needed in a presidential election. In the first round, on 28 October, Zurabishvili gained 38.6% of the votes, while Vashadze won 37.7% of the votes. It was expected that Vashadze was in a better position to win, since in the second round he was backed by European Georgia, the other opposition party which gained almost 11% of the votes in the first round.
Zurabishvili becomes the first female president of Georgia. She is also the first president with a migration background. Zurabishvili is a French-born diplomat and a former Foreign Minister. She participated in the election as an independent candidate supported by GD. However, critics say that Zurabishvili’s candidacy was the personal choice of Bidzina Ivanishvili (leader and founder of GD). During the campaign Zurabishvili made some unfortunate and controversial statements that probably cost her many votes. She was conspicuously absent from the spotlight in the campaign for the second round, with prominent GD members campaigning on her behalf. turned out to be not the best campaigner and she was kept away from the spotlights. Prominent members of GD campaigned on her behalf and even billboards were replaced with supporters of Zurabishvili instead of showing Zurabishvili herself. The support for Zurabishvili This election was considered by many as a test for GD for the much more crucial parliamentary elections in 2020.
Battle between Ivanishvili and Saakashvili
Beside the Georgian election watchdogs, the Parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) also monitored the elections, whose final reports are yet to be released. In both election rounds no major violations were noted. However, the campaign had a notably negative character and according to some experts the votes seemed to be more a ‘vote against’, than a ‘vote for.’ The elections were considered by many a ‘battle’ between GD leader Ivanishvili and UNM informal leader Saakashvili. An interesting detail: with Vashadze as president a return of Saakashvili would have been possible, as a president still has the power to pardon. Saakashvili has been on trial in absentia since 2014 for alleged power abuse during his presidency.
Last direct elections
It was the last time the president was chosen by a direct vote of the citizens. The direct presidential elections were abolished, following a constitutional amendment in 2017. From 2024 the president will be elected by a College of Electors with 300 members, for a five year term instead of six. The president will have less power than the prime minister and the position will become more ceremonial. However, the position is still highly valued since it will keep a prominent role in Georgia’s international affairs. The president will directly appoint the ambassadors and other diplomats and as head of Georgia the president will function as the main negotiator in international affairs and treaties. Zurabishvili declared she will try to deepen the relationship with both NATO and the EU and continue those partnerships.
Sources: Civil, Civil (2), Georgia today, RFERL
Photo: Wikimedia Commons