Georgia elects Salome Zurabishvili as the country’s first female president
Salome Zurabishvili has won Georgia’s presidential election, becoming the first woman 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%.
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.
66-year-old Zurabishvili was born in Paris after her parents fled Georgia in 1921 following its annexation by Soviet forces. Her family kept up strong ties with Georgian life and culture. Her great-great-grandfather on her mother’s side, Niko Nikoladze, was a prominent liberal writer and member of a liberation movement calling for Georgia’s independence from the Russian Empire.
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 studied international relations at the prestigious Paris Institute of Political Sciences before launching a 30-year career as a diplomat, with postings to the United Nations and Washington as well as Chad.
“Decades ago, as a young French diplomat, I couldn’t have imagined I would be running for the presidency of my ancestral homeland,” she told AFP in an interview last month.
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.
Her diplomatic career came to an end after her posting as France’s ambassador to Tbilisi in 2003, then led by President Eduard Shevardnadze.
Following the bloodless Rose Revolution, the new president Mikheil Saakashvili appointed her foreign minister — after approving the move with then French leader Jacques Chirac.
“She made a brilliant career in France but she stayed a Georgian at heart and a true patriot,” Saakashvili said at the time.