Protesters greet new Georgian president
Salome Zurabishvili (pictured) was sworn in as Georgia’s first female president on Sunday, marking the start of a new constitution which transforms the job into a largely ceremonial position.
The 66-year-old Paris-born former diplomat won a run-off vote last month with 59.6 per cent of the ballot with a turnout of 56 per cent, amid claims of vote-rigging by the opposition.
Zurabishvili is the first woman elected as president in any former Soviet republic outside the Baltic states. She will serve a six-year term.
More than 1,800 guests attended the event, including Armenian President Armen Sarkisian and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Zurabishvili’s inaugural speech said she would use her experience in France’s diplomatic service and as the Georgian foreign minister to promote hopes of joining the European Union and Nato.
She urged Russia to respect international law and normalise relations with its neighbours. The five-day war with Russia in 2008 over South Ossetia still damages bilateral relations.
“Russia should understand that, if it wants to be a full-fledged member of the international community and normalise relations in the region, it should prove the recognition of international legal norms by words and by deeds. This is mandatory for establishing an equal and peaceful relationship with its neighbours,” Zurabishvili said.
She called Russia’s continuing occupation of Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia “unacceptable”.
“The goal of my presidency is to make Georgia’s democratic development and its path toward Europe irreversible,” she said. “I will facilitate this process with the support of our strategic partner, the United States of America, and our European friends.”
Georgia signed an association agreement with Brussels in 2014 as part of its efforts to diversify its economic ties.
Opposition activists marched with bags of onions and potatoes yesterday (Sunday) to mock what they said were electoral bribes with vegetable handouts.
Police blocked a convoy of cars and buses from the capital of Tbilisi to the medieval town of Telavi, where Zurabishvili’s swearing-in ceremony was held.
Clashes were reported when police officers and protesters tried to break through police lines.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that the election was well administered but state resources were misused during the campaign and “one side enjoyed an undue advantage”.
November’s presidential election was the last direct vote for the largely ceremonial post, under constitutional changes approved in 2017 that completed Georgia’s move to a parliamentary system.
In 2024, the president will be chosen by a 300-member electoral college made up of parliamentarians and municipal government representatives.
Salome Zurabishvili. Picture credit: Wikimedia