TBILISI -- Thousands of people have protested in the Georgian capital against the election of the ruling party-backed candidate Salome Zurabishvili to the presidency, claiming fraud in last week’s runoff vote.
Holding national and EU flags, the protesters gathered on December 2 in front of the parliament building in the center of Tbilisi, calling for early parliamentary elections and a new election law.
French-born Zurabishvili, who had the backing of billionaire former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ruling Georgian Dream party, won 59.5 percent of the vote in the November 28 runoff, according to election authorities.
Grigol Vashadze, the candidate of opposition groups led by the United National Movement, which was founded by former President Mikheil Saakashvili, had 40.5 percent.
Vashadze told the protesters in Tbilisi that the "stolen election" should be annulled and snap general elections held.
"Our lawyers are preparing a lawsuit, which we will submit to court. We will demand that the results of the presidential election be annulled. Also, an investigation needs to be carried out," he said.
Vashadze also said that the authorities had to overhaul Georgia's electoral system and by December 16 establish a working group to hold talks with the opposition.
Speaking to the crowd from the Netherlands, where he lives in self-imposed exile, Saakashvili said that "Georgia's future is being born on this square today."
"We will fight peacefully, but we will never give up," Saakashvili said via video link.
"The fight will end with our victory and removing the oligarch from power," he added.
Both Zurabishvili and Vashadze are former foreign ministers of the South Caucasus country, which has warm ties with the United States and the European Union.
The presidential election was seen as a trial run for the contest between Georgian Dream and the opposition in parliamentary polls scheduled for 2020, as well as a test of Georgia's democratic credentials as it seeks EU and NATO membership.
A day after the runoff, international monitors said the vote was “competitive,” but Zurabishvili “enjoyed an undue advantage,” citing the misuse of administrative resources that "blurred the line between party and state."
Georgian Dream has ruled since ousting Saakashvili's United National Movement from power in 2012.
In January, Saakashvili was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison after being convicted of trying to cover up evidence about the 2006 killing of a Georgian banker.
The former president has rejected all the charges as politically motivated.