Georgia: New president with new problems

Lasha Tughushi, "Liberal Academy of Tbilisi" Foundation (Georgia, Tbilisi)

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Salome Zurabishvili was the first candidate to have crossed the finish line of the exhausting electoral marathon. Zurabishvili is the first female president of Georgia and the last president elected by direct vote. According to the Central Election Commission of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, an independent candidate supported by the Georgian Dream Party, won 59.52% (1,147,627 votes) in the second round of the presidential election while United National Movement’s Grigol Vashadze got 40.48% (780,633 votes).

Domestic policy

The first female president

At first sight, both candidates retained equal chances after the first round. Many experts tried to predict the results by solving mathematical puzzles, while both sides were throwing all their resources to the battlefield. This process was accompanied by unprecedented mobilization of candidates’ supporters. Administrative leverage and financial resources were actively used. Campaigns did not focus on the competition of platforms. Instead, they were built on negativity. The opposition now does not recognize election results claiming that “unauthorized practices” were used to get them.

“I will be the president for everyone, including those who did not vote for me”, Zurabishvili said. “I am waiting for greetings from Grigol Vashadze”, the first female president of Georgia called on her opponent to admit his defeat. Salome Zurabishvili was born in France and is a career diplomat.

“Our elections have been stolen. There is no president in Georgia. We will demand to recognize election results as invalid through a court decision”, said Grigol Vashadze, a favorite of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili and the front-runner of the united opposition.

Mr. Saakashvili called his supporters to disobedience. In a BBC interview, Mr. Vashadze tried to distance himself from this appeal.

Meanwhile, the opposition announced a protest in front of the parliament building on December 2. In reposonse the Ministry of Internal Affairs immediately assured that it would prevent destabilization. The opposition explained that its goal is early parliamentary elections  and it is not about getting beyond the law and the Constitution.

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) observers and their partners, including the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the European Parliament (EP) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) prepared a preliminary resolution on the election process.

“The second round of the presidential election in Georgia was competitive and candidates had an opportunity to freely conduct the election campaign”, the document says. At the same time, the assessment is partly tough and critical. The election campaign featured obviously negative and tough rhetoric, including hate speech. In the view of international observers, cases were detected where administrative leverage was used.

The government’s initiative to write off the debts of 600,000 citizens drew special attention of the observers. The preliminary report says that this fact can be interpreted as voter bribing if the institution implementing the initiative is owned by the leader of the governing party.

Other quotes are also tough. “There was sharp inequality in financial donations to the candidate supported by the governing party in the second round. The public broadcaster demonstrated a clear bias against the opposition while private mass media maintained a polarized position.”

The monitoring mission will publish its final report in two months. As the international community was sending its greetings, Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze said that he intended to amend the respective laws taking into account the critical assessments from international organizations for the next elections.  


The president is first in rank, ninth in salary

The president’s annual salary will be GEL82,800 (approximately $31,000). It has increased by GEL2,500 since 2013.

Also the state budget allocates GEL9.8 mln ($3.7mn) as funding for the new president’s administration. It employs the staff of 140 people.  

The president is not “the richest” official in the country, ranking 9th by monthly salary.

Foreign policy

East or West?

Salome Zurabishvili is not satisfied with the level of Georgia-West relations. “I will be working precisely in this direction”, she said. As for Russia, the new president called it an unpredictable country which you never know what to expect from in a BBC interview. Ms. Zurabishvili is viewed as a “balanced politician”. However, her statements about the Georgian-Russian war in 2008 with a critical assessment of Mr. Saakashvili’s irresponsible actions triggered sharp criticism in the society.  

Tbilisi is watching closely the statements made by the Kremlin. “Moscow’s policy towards Tbilisi will not change regardless of the results of the presidential elections,” said Maria Zakharova, Spokeswoman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Our position on Georgia is well known. Russia did not initiate the breaking of diplomatic relations. It was a big mistake of the Georgian authorities. People in our countries suffer because of this decision”, Maria Zakharova stated.

She also noted that contacts are developing on cultural dialogue, economics, and humanitarian ties with Tbilisi. However, “this process is complicated due to the lack of normal diplomatic relations”.