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Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Russia defends opposition leader’s election ban

Russian opposition leader Alexei
Navalny walks along a street in
Moscow on December 25, 2017, after
the election commission rejected his
presidential bid. Russian opposition
leader Alexei Navalny on December
25, 2017 urged voters to boycott the
country’s presidential ballot in March
2018 after election bosses barred him
from standing. / AFP PHOTO / Dmitry
Serebryakov
The Kremlin on Tuesday rejected concerns
that its decision to ban opposition leader
Alexei Navalny from running against
President Vladimir Putin in a March
election could undermine the vote’s
legitimacy.
The European Union weighed in to the
controversy meanwhile, warning that the
ban cast “serious doubt” on the election.
Russia’s Central Election Commission on
Monday rejected Navalny’s bid to take on
Putin in the March presidential poll, citing
a controversial embezzlement conviction.
The 41-year-old lawyer maintains that the
case against him is politically motivated.
He urged his supporters to stage a “vote
strike” instead.
Navalny is seen by many as the only
Russian opposition leader who stands a
fighting chance of challenging Putin.
Observers have expressed concern that
barring Navalny from running would affect
the legitimacy of the March poll and could
affect voter turnout.
“We cannot agree with this point of view,”
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told
reporters on Tuesday.
He insisted that barring Navalny from
running “can in no way affect the
legitimacy of the election”.
Peskov also said any calls to boycott the
election should be “rigorously studied” — a
thinly veiled threat of punishment.
EU external services spokeswoman Maja
Kocijancic said the ban on Navalny “casts
a serious doubt on political pluralism in
Russia and the prospect of democratic
elections next year”, in a statement on
Tuesday.
“Politically-motivated charges should not
be used against political participation,”
she said.
“We expect the Russian authorities to
ensure that there is a level playing field,
including in the presidential elections that
will take place on 18 March.”
Navalny has built a robust protest
movement in the face of persistent
harassment and jumped through multiple
hoops as he stumped for votes across the
country.
On Sunday, more than 15,000 supporters
from 20 cities formally endorsed his
nomination bid.
Earlier this month, Putin clearly indicated
that Navalny would not be allowed to run.
Asked why, Putin – who has refused to
mention Navalny by name in public — said
the opposition was hoping for a “coup”
but would not succeed.

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