(CNSNews.com) – The Russian anti-corruption activist disqualified from running against Vladimir Putin in presidential elections in March is calling for mass street protests next month in support of an election boycott.
Putin is widely predicted to easily win another six-year term in the March 18 election, but the central election commission (CEC) this week ruled that the man thought most likely to give him a run for his money, Alexei Navalny, may not enter the race.
Navalny, who led opposition to Putin’s last election campaign, in 2012, was later convicted of fraud and handed a five-year suspended prison sentence. Last August the suspended sentence was extended for a further year..
“Under Russia’s law,” explains the TASS state news agency, “citizens who have outstanding convictions for grave and especially grave crimes are barred from running in presidential elections.”
In order to run, a convicted criminal must have the conviction expunged – or wait for ten years.
Navalny and his supporters claim the criminal charges were trumped up to remove a potential challenger to Putin, who has been at Russia’s helm, as president or prime minister, for the past 18 years.
After a State Department spokesman was quoted earlier as expressing concern about the CEC decision to disqualify Navalny, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Washington of meddling in Russia’s internal affairs.
On December 20, the pro-Kremlin RT network quoted Putin as telling intelligence agency personnel the intelligence community faced the great responsibility of erecting “a safe barrier against external meddling in our social and political life, and to counteract the work of foreign security agencies, which are doing all they can to ramp up their level of activity in Russia.”
In a statement posted online Wednesday, Navalny made it clear he would not go quietly.
“We do not want to wait another six years,” he said. “We want competitive elections right now.”
Navalny urged supporters to deprive Putin of the high turnout he desires, by boycotting the polls and by agitating “with all our might” during nationwide protests planned for January 28.
In a wry comment referring to earlier apparent attempts to divert attention away from his campaign rallies, he said he was making formal applications for permission well in advance of January 28 – “so that an official would not say to us afterwards, ‘Oh, the square is being used for a belly dance competition.’”
Navalny also suggested to supporters that if they do wish to vote next March, they should consider casting their ballots for Grigory Yavlinsky, presidential candidate for the liberal Yabloko party.
Noting that Yabloko will require three percent of the vote in order to qualify for state funding, Navalny advised supporters, “if you are interested to assist in this, go ahead and vote.”
Yavlinsky last contested the presidency in 2000, garnering less than six percent of the vote and coming in third behind Putin and Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov. In 2012 the CEC barred him from running.
Other likely candidates include Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the ultra-nationalist Liberal-Democratic Party and a perennial presidential aspirant, reality television show host Ksenia Sobchak, and businessman Anton Bakov, leader of Russia’s first legal monarchist party since the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.