Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny has called for a nationwide boycott of presidential elections in March after the Central Election Commission on Monday unanimously rejected his bid to run against Strongman Vladimir Putin.
He said he will appeal against the poll panel’s ruling but acknowledged there was little chance of his success.
He is ineligible to run for president due to recent convictions.
“Navalny’s crime qualifies as “serious” and therefore rids the individual of the right to stand for president,” said poll panel member Boris Ebzeyev on Monday.
More than 15,000 Russians in 20 cities from Vladivostok to Saint Petersburg on Sunday had endorsed the candidacy of Alexei Navalny to run against Putin.
Many voters, who look for change, say 41-year-old Navalny is the only opposition leader who can put up a stiff fight against Putin who is seeking a fourth term.
In Moscow, over 700 people supported Navalny’s candidacy as they gathered on Sunday at a park on the banks of Moscow River. Addressing them, Navalny said he is proud to stand as a candidate adding he will win if he runs with their support. He described Putin as a “bad president”.
Navalny said Putin, during his 18 years of rule, “took away from poor people oil, gas and metal worth trillions of dollars, sold it abroad and rewarded those people by turning them from poor to destitute”.
Putin is expected to win the elections as he enjoys approval ratings of 80 percent.
In a connected incident on Sunday, Ilya Yashin, a pro-opposition municipal deputy, led an unauthorised protest in central Moscow in support of free elections and Navalny’s Kremlin bid.
“Putin is a thief,” protesters chanted as police looked on.