Salome Zurabishvili, President of Georgia (On Nov 28, 2018 wins 59.5% of the vote)
Salome Zurabishvili (born 18 March 1952) is a French-born Georgian politician who is the President-Elect of Georgia, due to take office on 16 December 2018. She will become the first woman to hold the office in a permanent capacity (with Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze having previously been Acting President on two occasions of vacancy in the office) and will serve a six-year term under a one-term measure. Zurabishvili is currently due to be the last popularly elected President of Georgia, as future presidents will be elected by an Electoral College from 2024 onward.
From 2004 to 2005 she served as the Foreign Minister of Georgia and was previously an ambassador in the French foreign service. Furthermore, Zurabishvili was the Coordinator of the Panel of Experts assisting the UN Security Council’s Iran Sanctions Committee. She also currently serves as an independent MP in the Parliament of Georgia and will be vacating her seat upon her inauguration as president.
Zurabishvili ran as an independent candidate (supported by the governing Georgian Dream party) in the 2018 Georgian presidential election, which took place on 28 October 2018, and finished first with 38.63% of votes cast. However, Grigol Vashadze of the United National Movement finished a close second with 37.74% and, as no candidate received more than 50% of the vote, a second round took place on 28 November 2018. Zurabishvili won the run-off by a wide margin, garnering 59.52% of the vote, to Vashadze’s 40.48%.
In November 2004, Zurabishvili was appointed Foreign Minister of Georgia, with Georgian citizenship having been granted to her by a special decision of President Mikheil Saakashvili. This decision was jointly endorsed by the French President Jacques Chirac. As foreign minister of Georgia, Zurabishvili was the main negotiator of the agreement for the withdrawal of Russian military bases from the territory of Georgia, which was signed with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov on 19 May 2005. During her tenure as Foreign Minister, the “New Group of Friends of Georgia” was created, bringing together Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Poland to help Georgia’s aspirations towards NATO and foster European integration.
In March 2006, Zurabishvili founded the political party “The Way of Georgia” and served as the leader and honorary chairwoman of the party until 2010. Following her victory in the 2016 parliamentary elections, she became an independent member of the Parliament of Georgia.
Salome Zurabishvili was married to the Georgian journalist Janri Kashia (1939–2012). She has two children, Ketevan and Teimuraz, from her first marriage. Zurabishvili is the cousin of French historian Hélène Carrère d’Encausse.
Giorgi Margvelashvili, Former President of Georgia (since Nov 17, 2013)
Giorgi Margvelashvili was elected President of Georgia on 27 October 2013. A former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Science in the government of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, Mr. Margvelashvili is a committed democrat and reformer who revitalised the country’s education system after years of neglect. While he is not affiliated with any political party, he was nominated to be the presidential candidate of the governing Georgian Dream Coalition in May 2013, and was elected with more than 62% of the vote.
Mr. Margvelashvili’s background is in public policy, politics and academia. Before joining the Georgian Dream government after its victory in the October 2012 parliamentary elections, he was a well-known political commentator and served for more than a decade in senior positions at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA), a leading Georgian institution of higher education in government, law, international affairs and journalism.
Mr. Margvelashvili graduated from Tbilisi State University in 1992 with a degree in philosophy. He continued his studies at the Central European University in Prague, Czech Republic from 1993 to 1994 and the Institute of Philosophy of the Georgian Academy of Sciences from 1993 to 1996. In 1998, he received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Tbilisi State University.
Mr. Margvelashvili has a life-long interest in mountaineering and in the early 1990s worked as a mountain guide and for adventure travel companies, including Caucasus Travel.
In 1993, he was a junior research fellow at the Psychology Laboratory for Marginal Conditions and the Georgian Culture Research Centre. From 1996 to 1997, he taught philosophy and culture at Tbilisi Independent University. From 1995-2000, he was a local government expert in the Tbilisi office of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the US-based organization focused on strengthening democratic institutions worldwide. For the next twelve years, from 2000 to 2012, Mr. Margvelashvili served in various leadership roles at GIPA, including as Provost from 2000 to 2006 and from 2010 to 2012, and as head of GIPA’s research department from 2006 to 2010.
Mr. Margvelashvili became briefly involved in Georgian politics prior to the November 2003 parliamentary elections, when he joined the opposition bloc led by former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. During the Saakashvili period, he was an outspoken critic of the government of Mikheil Saakashvili, which he viewed as corrupt and authoritarian. While remaining politically independent, he advised Mr.
Ivanishvili during the Georgian Dream Coalition’s campaign for the October 2012 parliamentary elections.
Following the Coalition’s victory in these elections, Mr. Margvelashvili was appointed Minister of Education and Science by Prime Minister Ivanishvili. As Minister, Mr. Margvelashvili’s initiatives included substantially raising teacher salaries and investing in school renovations and in the provision of free school transportation. In February 2013, he was appointed First Deputy Prime Minister and, in this capacity, worked closely with the Prime Minister, while continuing to fulfill his duties as Minister of Education and Science, until resigning from these positions in order to run for the October 2013 presidential elections.
Mr. Margvelashvili is 44 years old and unmarried, with a 20-year-old daughter, Ana, who is a student at GIPA. His partner, Maka Chichua, is an artist and actress. In his spare time, Mr. Margvelashvili enjoys hiking, tai chi, horseback riding, and spending time with friends at his country house in the Dusheti region.
Mikheil Saakashvili, Former President of Georgia
Mikheil Saakashvili became the democratically elected President of Georgia on 25 January 2004.
President Saakashvili was born in Tbilisi, Georgia on 21 December 1967, and is eldest son of three brothers. His mother, Professor Giuli Alasania, is an expert in Georgia’s long history of peaceful multi-cultural and religious tolerance and she is still active in education and democracy-building efforts.
His father, Dr. Nikoloz Saakashvili, still practices medicine in Tbilisi and is director of The Balneological Center, a physical therapy and hydro-therapy center.
In 1984, Mikheil Saakashvili graduated with honors from Tbilisi Secondary School N51 and was accepted into the prestigious Kiev University Institute of International Relations. He graduated with honors. The close friendships formed in his three years in Kiev continue to this day.
President Saakashvili studied in the United States for years. He attended Columbia University in New York City as an Edmund S. Muskie Fellow and received a Master’s Degree in Law in 1995. From 1995 to 1996, he studied law at the doctoral level at The George Washington University National Center of Law in Washington, D.C.
He was awarded a diploma in Comparative Law of Human Rights at the Strasbourg Human Rights International Institute. He then spent more than half of 1992 specializing in minority issues at the Norwegian Institute of Human Rights and organized a conference between Georgians and South Ossetians that led to the first signed ceasefire agreement.
At the Human Rights Committee of Georgia, 1992-93, he secured prisoner exchange agreements between Georgians and Abkhazs and also between Armenians and Azeris captured in the fighting for Nagorno-Karabakh. Admitted to the New York Bar, he practiced commercial law for nearly a year at Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler in New York City.
Coming home to Georgia, he was elected to Parliament in 1995 and was immediately elected by his peers in Parliament as Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional, Legal Issues and Legal Affairs.
He poured new energy into the committee’s mission. He immediately launched legislation to fight corruption and to institutionalize human rights. Many reforms written by his committee passed Parliament, particularly in areas of constitutional law, Georgia’s civil and administrative codes, and the Unified Law of Courts setting judicial standards and practices.
He soared to national prominence though his leadership in Parliament fighting for Judicial reform. He fought for transformation of Georgian courts from Soviet-modeled ineffectiveness to a more transparent and accountable model. He initiated Georgia’s first merit-based selection of judges so that all judicial candidates sat through an objective examination under direct supervision of representatives of the American Bar Association.
He was the first Minister of Justice to tackle prison reform, fighting to improve conditions to standards of international human rights. He regularly visited Georgian prisons and worked in the prisons himself on those improvements.
In August 1998, he became majority leader of Parliament when his party, “Citizen’s Union”, elected him leader of their parliamentary delegation. He was re-elected to Parliament in 1999 but this time elected directly by the constituents of the Vake district in central Tbilisi.
The Georgian Parliament elected him head of Georgia’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In January 2000 in Strasbourg, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe elected Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia as its Vice President.
On October 12, 2000, then-President Edward Shevardnadze appointed Mikheil Saakashvili to be Minister of Justice of Georgia. Seven out of eight parties in a deeply divided parliament voted in favor of his appointment.
He quickly became a popular minister who resonated with the Georgian people. He used public transportation and walked to work through Tbilisi’s streets, while other ministers rode in cars with dark windows. He became known for frequently stopping on the streets to hear the complaints from average citizens and then for arranging solutions while other officials had no such contact at all.
At the Justice Ministry, Mikheil Saakashvili made it the priority to attack the culture of corruption that pervaded post-Soviet Georgia. He was fearless about starting with the highest levels, and launched tough investigations that quickly produced hard evidence of personal corruption by senior officials.
But, even when faced with the evidence, the government repeatedly refused to prosecute. In one storied moment, Minister Saakashvili brought incriminating photos to a televised meeting of the government, photos that were proof of corruption among his ministers who were at the table. When leaders including President Shevardnadze ignored the evidence, Minister Saakashvili went public and began to release the evidence. Despite threats of reprisal and personal danger, he relentlessly exposed the wrong-doing.
It was also during this period, in the summer of 2001, that journalist Giorgi Sanaya, an outspoken critic of the government, was found shot to death in his Tbilisi apartment. Fifty thousand Georgians marched on the Presidency demanding answers for Sanaya’s death, the first large demonstration by Georgians against their government since 1989.
In September 2001, less than a year after his appointment, Mikheil Saakashvili resigned as Minister of Justice over the government’s unwillingness to end corruption within itself. He also resigned from his “Citizens’ Union Party”, also the party of President Edward Shevardnadze.
Only weeks after that resignation and now running as an independent, he was overwhelmingly re-elected to Parliament in October 2001 by the constituents of Tbilisi’s Vake District.
Before the end of 2001, he formed a new party, “The United National Movement”, pledging to take the fight to the government over corruption. Political contemporaries and citizens flocked to sign up. It was also during this time that the government attempted to shut down independent television station, Rustavi 2, but thousands of Georgians surrounded the station to protect it and the attempt failed.
Mikheil Saakashvili resigned his seat in Parliament to be eligible to run locally for Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo). He won on the platform, “Tbilisi without Shevardnadze” and was elected Council Chair.
As Council Chair, 2002-2003, he put new energy into the neglected city and jumpstarted programs to create real city services. Pensions were increased, streets were paved, playgrounds were built and corrupt city officials found out: The party was over. He ended the widespread practice of illegal construction that fed itself on payoffs to corrupt city officials.
He established the “Heroes Memorial” on Heroes Square in Tbilisi to honor all those who died protecting the territorial integrity of Georgia. He also created the first memorial in the country honoring the 18 Georgians who died on the steps of Parliament, bludgeoned to death with shovels by uniformed Soviet troops on 9 April 1989 during what had been a peaceful demonstration for Georgian independence from the Soviet Union.
He became a candidate again for Parliament for the new “National Movement” party in what would become the historic Georgian national elections scheduled for November 2003. He ran on the platform, “Georgia without Shevardnadze” .
When the government released election results placing President Shevardnadze’s coalition, named “For New Georgia”, first in the vote with Saakashvili’s “National Movement” at number two, there was instant public outrage. Every international observer and scientific pollster had documented that “For New Georgia” went into the election with single digit public support and could not have come out with the numbers it claimed.
Mikheil Saakashvili and the late Zurab Zhvania, a member of Parliament from the “United Democrats” party, united to reject the election results and called on the public to protest and to protest in public. Thus began the Rose Revolution.
Saakashvili was determined that the protests would be determinedly non-violent, lawful and constitutional. With Zhvania and the Speaker of Parliament, Nino Burjanadze, they strategized to plan peaceful demonstrations by the Georgians pouring into the streets.
For 19 days and nights, with the crowds growing larger every day, Saakashvili led the public rejection of the contrived election results. Whether roaring in unison under windows where ministers retreated in offices, or honking countless car horns in earsplitting din at coordinated signals, the protests grew louder, larger and more intense. Mikheil Saakashvili left Tbilisi to tour the regions of Georgia and lead countless thousands more Georgians back into Tbilisi to join the throngs. Through those weeks, non-violence was the leadership’s method and means and the people of Georgia were faithful to it.
Critical mass occurred on 22 November 2003 when President Shevardnadze and his allies gathered for the opening of Parliament for a session that would certify the fraudulent election results. At first there was no quorum as parliamentarians boycotted the session. Even the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, declined to attend the session to deliver his traditional blessing on opening day.
The session of Parliament had to be stopped to prevent constitutionally legitimate approval of the illegal election reports. Trying to bring the government to a halt, Mikheil Saakashvili and followers peacefully entered and occupied government offices of the Chancellery. That’s where they were when they received word that Parliament had achieved a quorum: Parliamentarians of the “New Right” party reversed their earlier decision to boycott and had entered the Parliament to join President Shevardnadze and his allies.
It was Mikheil Saakashvili who made the historic decision that the protestors should enter the Parliament itself to stop the session. He led a selected group, including Zhvania and Burjanadze, through the throngs to the doors of the Parliament. He lifted his hands to show he was unarmed. In one hand, he held a red rose.
He pushed into the building, but was forcefully ejected and the furious crowds pushed their way at the building, lifting their roses. However, what could have turned violent, did not. The Georgian guards surrounding Parliament had become familiar with the protestors over the weeks, chatting with their fellow Georgians for days and nights; the protestors had even fed the young guards when the government had made no such provision. At the moment the crowds began to surge, the guards first resisted, but then, they began to disobey their shouting superiors. The young Georgian security guards stepped aside and led by Saakashvili, the people of Georgia entered their Parliament.
Most members of Parliament fled, fearing the crowd. President Shevardnadze was whisked out the back, physically carried aloft by his guards. Upon his desertion of the Parliamentary session, Speaker Burjanadze was declared acting President.
Mikheil Saakashvili and his fellow leaders went to the President’s residence. After long hours of negotiations deep into the night, President Shevardnadze resigned in the early hours of 23 November 2003.
In the special elections held on 4 January 2004 that were watched by the entire world, the people of Georgia overwhelmingly elected Mikheil Saakashvili as their President.
President Saakashvili lives in a 3-room apartment in a private residential building in Tbilisi with his wife, Sandra, and their two sons.