Thousands hit streets of Georgia to protest against Presidential election result

President Salome Zurabishvili (R) and opposition leader Grigol Vashadze (L). Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP Tbilisi, Georgia Dec 02, 2018, 07.06 PM (IST)

Around 25,000 Georgians on Sunday protested against the election of a ruling party-backed candidate to the presidency, claiming fraud, in a move that threatens to complicate the transition of power in the Western-backed nation.

Holding Georgian and EU flags, protesters packed Rustaveli Avenue in front of the parliament building in the centre of the Georgian capital Tbilisi. 

"I am here to protest against election fraud," Liana Partsvania, 63, told AFP. She accused billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, seen by many as the country's de facto ruler, of stealing "our votes".

On Wednesday, former French diplomat Salome Zurabishvili was elected the ex-Soviet nation's first woman president, beating a candidate supported by flamboyant ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili.

Zurabishvili has said her election was a step forward for women and a move closer to Europe.

But opposition leaders including Zurabishvili's rival Grigol Vashadze have refused to accept the result and called for snap parliamentary elections.

The new head of state will be a largely ceremonial figure, but the vote was seen as a trial run for the contest between Ivanishvili's ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition in more important parliamentary polls set for 2020.

Fresh street protesters could spark concern for the country, which has seen civil wars, mass demonstrations and unrest since gaining its independence in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union.

"People took to the streets today because the elections were rigged," said protester Gia Mgeladze, 20. "I defend people's right to change power through fair elections."

The vote was also seen as a test of Georgia's democratic credentials as it seeks European Union and NATO membership.

Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the election was competitive but they also raised concerns about misuse of administrative resources that "blurred the line between party and state".

In the first round, held in October, former French ambassador Zurabishvili failed to take the 50-per cent-plus-one-vote needed to win outright. 

But she gained more than 59 per cent of the second-round vote, while Vashadze topped 40 per cent.

 

Story highlights

Holding Georgian and EU flags, protesters packed Rustaveli Avenue in front of the parliament building in the centre of the Georgian capital Tbilisi.