After Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was officially barred from running against President Vladimir Putin earlier this week, Navalny is calling for voters to boycott the next election taking place in March.
“We are declaring a voters’ strike,” said Navalny in a video released after the Central Election Committee (CEC) announced he would not be eligible to run. “Going to the voting booth now is voting for lies and corruption.”
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On Sunday, 16,000 of Navalny’s supporters gathered in 20 cities across Russia as he declares his candidacy.
Even though only 500 supporters have to gather in order for a candidate to be officially nominated, the committee still barred Navalny from running due to “criminal conviction for embezzlement that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against and Mr. Navalny himself says was politically motivated,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
“A citizen who has been sentenced to imprisonment for committing a grave or especially grave crime, and who has an outstanding conviction for the said crime, has no right to be elected president of the Russian Federation,” said Boris Ebzeev, a member of the CEC.
Other candidates were approved to run against Putin, but Navalny believes they were allowed to run because they don’t pose a threat to the current president.
“The procedure in which we are invited to participate is not an election,” said Navalny. “It involves only Putin and those candidates whom he personally chose, who do not pose the slightest threat to him.”
Navalny is no stranger to organizing protests either.
“Mr. Navalny rose to prominence during the protests of 2011-12, when tens of thousands of Muscovites took to the streets to protest the beginning of Mr. Putin’s third term as president. A fiery orator, the politician still has street-level support among opposition-minded Russians across the country,” writes WSJ. “Thousands of people have participated in street protests that Mr. Navalny has organized this year. Some of his supporters have said they are ready to join rallies to show their unhappiness with Mr. Putin’s tightly ruled political system.”
His anti-Putin efforts have led to arrests, detentions and even charges.
“Navalny came under pressure from authorities as he gained popularity. He faced countless detentions and jailings for staging protests and spent months under house arrest while being investigated for fraud. He was convicted on two sets of unrelated fraud charges. His brother was sent to prison in what was seen as political revenge,” writes ABC News.
Navalny wrote a blog post-Wednesday promoting a protest scheduled for January 28.
“We do not want to wait another six years. We want competitive elections right now,” wrote Navalny. “Going to the polls now is to solve Putin’s problems — help him turn reassignment into a kind of election. There is not the slightest point in this.”
Putin’s approval rating is around 80%, so Navalny would likely lose to the president in an election anyway. But it looks like he won’t get the chance to even try.
Author’s note: This is just a reminder that other countries don’t even have free elections. Putin’s government has made it so that Navalny, who has a large following, can’t even run against him.