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Russian Opposition Leader Barred From Running Against Putin In 2018

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a meeting with his supporters in Moscow on Sunday. Navalny, seen as the only Russian opposition leader who stands a fighting chance of challenging strongman Vladimir Putin, was seeking to get his name on the ballot for a March vote, but on Monday an election commission voted to bar him from the election.

Alexei Navalny, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, will not be allowed to run in next year's presidential election in Russia, officials announced on Monday.

Putin is anticipated to win re-election yet again, continuing nearly two decades of dominance over Russian politics.

"Navalny is implicitly barred from running for office because of a conviction in a fraud case which has been viewed as political retribution," The Associated Press writes. "He could have run if he [were] given a special dispensation or if his conviction was cancelled."

But election officials opted not to grant him permission, Reuters reports:

"The decision by the central election commission was widely expected as election officials had repeatedly declared Navalny would be ineligible to run. Twelve members of the 13-member commission voted to bar Navalny. One member abstained, citing a possible conflict of interest.

"Navalny, 41, who polls show would struggle to beat incumbent Vladimir Putin in the March election, said he would appeal and called on his supporters to boycott the election and campaign against it being held."

"The process in which we are called to participate is not a real election," Navalny said in a video statement, according to a Reuters translation. "It will feature only Putin and the candidates which he has personally selected."

As NPR has previously reported, Navalny has been arrested multiple times for organizing and participating in large protests against Putin's government.

Kremlin orchestration has been a hallmark of Russian politics under Putin, with some "opposition" political figures actually answering to Putin's party.

But as NPR reported back in June, Navalny is "doing something no Russian politician has done in a long time ... running a national political campaign based on grassroots enthusiasm rather than backroom Kremlin deals."

Navalny started out as an anti-corruption blogger, and uses the Internet to campaign for support — his Youtube channel is a crucial communication medium.

NPR's Moscow correspondent, Lucian Kim, followed Navalny as he traveled around the country in June:

"Gaping income disparity, greedy officials and potholed roads are all things that make ordinary Russians angry, and Navalny hammers away at them. He then takes questions on everything from the army draft - he'd abolish it - to LGBT rights. He says people's private lives are nobody else's business.

"Alexei Makarkin, a Moscow political analyst, says the last politician who ran the same kind of grassroots campaign and evoked the same enthusiasm was Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first president 25 years ago.

"Makarkin says the chances of the Kremlin letting Navalny run as a presidential candidate are close to zero, but that the opposition leader's real goal is to build a broad base of support he can use as a political tool later if social discontent grows."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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