In a scene at times reminiscent of a televised evangelical revival, Mikehil Saakashvili ended his campaign on January 4 in a packed Tbilisi sports arena with an appeal to voters to put aside pessimism about Georgia's troubled past and focus on a "strong Georgia" of the future.
With the slogan "Georgia without poverty" as a recurring refrain, the 40-year-old former president described a country in which villagers have easy access to business credit, schools will rival those of the West, and an employment program will assist inhabitants of Georgia's economically depressed regions. "The final victory will be a Georgia without poverty," he told the crowd.
Mid-speech, Saakashvili reached down from the stage to pick up a toddler boy whom he held, or who stood next to him, hand-in-hand, for most of the roughly 20-minute speech. "Tomorrow's victory will be our future generation," he proclaimed, lifting the boy to the audience's cheers.
The move carried upbeat symbolism in a culture with a near-compulsive reverence for children and sons.
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Elizabeth Owen is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.