Salome Zurabishvili, the French-born daughter of Georgian émigrés, has become Georgia’s first female President and fifth President. At her inauguration on Sunday at an 18th century palace in the eastern town of Telavi, President Zurabishvili vowed to reconcile political divisions and deepen ties with NATO and Europe. President Zurabishvili was backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party and won 60 percent of votes in last month’s runoff election, which the opposition called rigged and international observers said was marred by unfair use of state resources. The Georgian Dream party was founded by billionaire banker Bidzina Ivanishvili whom critics say rules the nation from behind the scenes.
The Prime Minister and government wield most executive power, so the Presidency is largely ceremonial but remains the international face of the country. “I know different parties have different opinions about recognizing me as President, but I take responsibility to be President for all Georgians,” she said in her speech, as Georgia seeks better relations with the West to counter Russia’s influence, “The new constitution of Georgia reflects the will of the Georgian people regarding Georgia’s unhindered movement towards the European Union and NATO. With the assistance of our strategic partner the United States and European friends, I will contribute to this process.”
Having worked in France’s diplomatic service before becoming Georgia’s foreign minister from 2004-2005, President Zurabishvili said she would use that experience to promote her nation’s aspirations to join the EU bloc and NATO transatlantic military alliance. She criticized Russia’s occupation of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying, “Russia, as a neighbor in the Caucasus, must realize that if it wants to be a full-fledged member of the international community, and intends to restore normal relations in this region, it must prove, both in words and fact, that it recognizes all norms of international law.”