French-born ex-diplomat Salome Zurabishvili has been named the winner in Georgia’s presidential election — which will make her the first woman to ever serve as the country’s president — but her opponent, Mikhail Saakashvili, has sworn to challenge a result that he characterized as a “criminal farce.” Zurabishvili, who ran as an independent but with the backing of the ruling Georgian Dream party, won nearly 60 percent of the vote in Wednesday’s presidential runoff, according to the Central Election Commission. Her opponent, Grigol Vashadze, who was supported by a coalition of opposition forces led by former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National movement, took 40 percent of the vote but has claimed that the vote was rigged and called for protests to annul the results of the election.
Zurabishvili, 66, was born in Paris after her parents fled Georgia to escape the country’s annexation by the Soviet Union. According to The BBC, the margin of her victory in the recent run-off is somewhat suspicious given that she got 20 percent more votes than in the first round of voting just a few weeks prior. Critics of Zurabishvili have painted her as pro-Russian, noting past comments in which she claimed that Georgia started the 2008 Georgia-Russia war. Her backing by the Georgia Dream party, which was founded by former Georgia president Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire who infamously made his fortune as a business oligarch in Russia, has further added to suspicions of possible electoral interference. Georgia is currently in a state of political transition to a parliamentary republic — meaning that soon the country’s prime minister will be its most powerful political figure. Wednesday’s election was the last time voters will directly choose the president. Following the end of Zurabishvili’s six-year term, the presidency will be chosen by parliamentary delegates.
Speaking to The Associated Press on Thursday evening, Zurabishvili did not comment on claims of election fraud but said only that Georgia could not currently cooperate with Russia due to its “current behavior towards Ukraine” and that she would continue to pursue membership for Georgia in NATO.
“I am not just a naive optimist that everything will be solved,” she said. “We have to be very careful and careful not to give the impression to a very aggressive neighbor that it can play with Georgia. It won’t be able to play with Georgia.” Below, listen to a post-election interview with Zurabishvili in which she has some tough words for Russia.