MP Salome Zurabishvili, an independent presidential candidate who is thought to enjoy the endorsement of the ruling party, announced the launch of her election campaign before a group of supporters in village Didi Jikhaishi in western Georgia on August 16.
The nearly 50-minute announcement was made in front of the museum of the candidate’s great grandfather – Niko Nikoladze, a prominent 19th century writer and public figure.
Zurabishvili said the campaign launch in the museum of Niko Nikoladze, “a genuine statesman,” was right and logical. “This is the place where he embarked upon many of his pursuits, effectively laying foundation to contemporary Georgia and its economy.”
“I wanted to announce my campaign here not because he is my ancestor, but to show that the President, above all, has to be a statesman. This is what we have forgotten in the political squabbles of recent years; the President has to be different – it has to be for the state and not for a political party or his career,” the presidential hopeful noted.
She then stressed that as president she would deliver “words and deeds,” instead of engaging into political disputes. “The new President has to be an idea-generator, rather than a veto-generator,” the presidential candidate quipped, apparently referring to incumbent President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s frequent use of legislative objections.
Zurabishvili then stressed the Georgian society needs “a unifying” president against the backdrop of “hatred and endless antagonism.” She also said she would serve as a mediator between the state and the people, and pledged to bridge the gap between the two.
The candidate outlined her program priorities as well, saying as president she would work for addressing the “growing” rates of gender violence. She also touched upon the return of emigrants and vowed to establish a special agency for their re-socialization. Zurabishvili said she would work with partners to establish temporary worker quotas for Georgian migrants.
The candidate also pledged to prioritize the issues of the disabled, elderly care and social housing, and promised to address the “semi-clientilist” appointments in state agencies.
Zurabishvili spoke on immigration as well, saying: “oftentimes, I hear concerns that there is an influx of foreigners; tourism is a source of income for many families, but public concerns, genetically-inherited feelings of fear towards some of our neighbors and the fact that this has happened very quickly, creates certain discomfort in our society.”
“Some are saying we are losing our identity, others are saying they are concerned for their safety; the President cannot ignore this and turn a blind eye on it … these are genuine feelings and concerns of our society and the authorities have to pay attention to it and find ways for imposing less restrictive [immigration] regulations, so that the process is not perceived as aggression against Georgian identity,” the presidential hopeful added.
She also said she will work with diaspora members, including through setting legislative quotas for their political representation and establishing a diaspora house – a one stop shop for multiple services – to facilitate their return to Georgia. Zurabishvili added that she will also work for reviving culture and making Georgia a holiday destination for well-off tourists.
Salome Zurabishvili, a French-born career diplomat, announced her candidacy on August 6. The ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party, which has decided not to field its candidate for the polls, is reportedly pondering over endorsing Zurabishvili, but not all GDDG members seem to be on board with the decision.
Zurabishvili, born to an immigrant family that fled Georgia in 1921, was invited to become the country’s Foreign Minister in March 2004 by then President Mikheil Saakashvili, but was sacked in October 2005 after a confrontation with the parliamentary majority. In 2006, she went into opposition and set up a political party – Georgia’s Way, which she led until 2010.
In November 2010, Zurabishvili announced about “temporarily quitting” politics and left the country after she was appointed as a coordinator of the United Nations panel of experts on Iran. Zurabishvili returned to Georgia to run for the presidency in 2013, but her bid was rejected by the Central Election Commission on the grounds of having dual citizenship.