Diplomatic Briefing

Your exclusive news aggregator handpicked daily!

Archive for October 28, 2018

Newsline: Ex-French diplomat unlikely favourite for Georgian president

When Salome Zurabishvili arrived in Georgia in 2004 as French ambassador, few could have predicted that 15 years later she would be favourite to be elected president of the ex-Soviet nation. The Caucasus country votes Sunday in a hotly contested race that has pitted Zurabishvili, supported by the ruling Georgian Dream party, against opposition-backed Grigol Vashadze. The position of president will be largely ceremonial following a change to the constitution but the polls are seen as a test for the increasingly unpopular Georgian Dream. Zurabishvili’s unorthodox path to the candidacy has also generated interest. The stylish 66-year-old, currently an independent MP, is the daughter of refugees who fled Georgia in 1921 for Paris after the country’s annexation by the Red Army. Her career in France’s foreign ministry culminated in her posting to Tbilisi. From that position former president Mikheil Saakashvili appointed her foreign minister — after approving the move with then French leader Jacques Chirac. But Zurabishvili quickly made enemies in the ranks of the parliamentary majority, with MPs and a number of senior diplomats publicly accusing her of arrogance and impulsivity. She was sacked after a year on the job, though thousands took to the streets of the capital to protest her dismissal. She then joined the opposition and became one of Saakashvili’s fiercest critics. She speaks Georgian with a strong French accent and frequent grammatical mistakes. Opinion polls put opposition candidate Vashadze almost even with Zurabishvili, who renounced her French citizenship to be able to stand. Vashadze is a respected career diplomat who served in the Soviet foreign ministry where he helped craft the Soviet-US treaty on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms. The 60-year-old was Saakashvili’s foreign minister from 2008-2012. Both candidates have campaigned on similar promises to bring Georgia closer to full membership of the European Union and NATO. The vote is Georgia’s last direct leadership poll as the Black Sea nation transitions to a parliamentary form of governance following a controversial constitutional reform. Georgia’s next president will be elected in 2024 by a 300-member electoral college. Over 3.5 million people are eligible to vote in the election which will be monitored by international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.