On Monday, Russian election officials formally barred anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny from running for president in the March 18 election.
Over the past year, Navalny has launched a grassroots campaign to challenge the current president, Vladimir Putin. Navalny is the most serious opponent that Putin has ever faced.
Minutes after the Central Election Commission announced its decision, Navalny released a pre-recorded video message. The message called on his supporters to boycott the vote.
“The procedure that we’re invited to take part in is not an election,” Navalny said. “Only Putin and the candidates he has hand-picked are taking part in it.”
He added: “Going to the polls right now is to vote for lies and corruption.”
With or without Navalny in the race, Putin has been expected to win a fourth term easily. His approval ratings are more than 80 percent.
Why can’t Navalny run?
Every member of the Central Election Commission decided together that Navalny is not able to run. The commission officials said they are not permitted to put Navalny on the ballot because he was found guilty in a fraud case last February.
But the case has been widely seen as a tool to prevent Navalny from running for office. And Navalny could have run if he was given special permission or if the guilty decision was cancelled.
Navalny spoke with the commission before its vote to bar him. He told them that their decision would be a vote “not against me, but against 16,000 people who have nominated me, against 200,000 volunteers who have been canvassing for me.”
How could a boycott affect the election?
Navalny’s call for a boycott could harm the Russian government’s hopes for increasing the number of people who actually vote. Even though Putin is likely to win an easy victory, government officials want his performance to be as strong as possible. They have been concerned by growing voter disinterest.
The involvement of 36-year-old TV star Ksenia Sobchak could raise public interest in the race. And she could appeal to some of Navalny’s supporters and help increase the number of people who vote.
Sobchak has denied working with Putin’s government to bar Navalny from running for president. But she criticized Navalny’s call to boycott the vote.
On Monday she said the “election is the only way to change something, and boycotting them is inefficient and harmful.”
She suggested that Navalny join her campaign if she gets registered for the race.
I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
Nataliya Vasilyeva and Vladimir Isachenkov reported this story for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor. We want to hear from you. Have popular political figures in your country ever been barred from running in elections? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
formally - adv. done in an official and public way
grassroots - adj. made up of the ordinary people in a society or organization : the people who do not have a lot of money and power
procedure - n. a series of actions that are done in a certain way or order
canvass - v. to talk to the people in an area in order to get them to support a candidate
inefficient - adj. not capable of producing desired results without wasting materials, time, or energy