Vladimir Putin seals re-election nomination as rival warned boycott call maybe illegal
Vladimir Putin was formally nominated as a candidate in next year’s presidential elections as the Kremlin rejected suggestions that barring his most serious rival from the ballot would undermine the vote’s legitimacy.
Mr Putin, who announced his intention to run for a fourth term as president of Russia earlier this month, was formally endorsed by 668 supporters at a meeting in Moscow on Tuesday.
The announcement came a day after Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner viewed as Mr Putin’s most credible political rival, called for a boycott of the March 18 poll after he was denied registration by Russia’s Central Election Commission (CEC).
“The procedure we’re offered to take part in is not an election. Only Putin and candidates he personally chose – those who pose no threat to him whatsoever – are participating,” Mr Navalny said in a video statement published in his blog Monday.
“To come to the polling station would mean to vote for deception and corruption,” he added and urged supporters to undermine the turnout, which he sees as the biggest concern for the Kremlin.
Mr Navalny was nominated by a congress of supporters on Sunday, but immediately denied permission to proceed with collecting signatures to confirm his place on the ballot because of a criminal conviction for fraud that he says is politically motivated.
Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, appeared to warn that Mr Navalny would face criminal investigation over his call for voters to stay away from the polls.
“We are aware of different expert opinions – and there are very different ones – but we don’t agree with this opinion [that Mr Navalny not running will lower voters’ interest in the election],” the Kremlin spokesman was quoted as saying by the RBC news outlet.
He added that Mr Navalny not running “cannot in any way undermine the legitimacy of the vote,” but his calls to boycott it are to be investigated for “being or not being in accordance with the law.”
Mr Putin, who appeared for a televised walkabout with children visiting the Kremlin’s Christmas tree on Tuesday, was not present at his own endorsement meeting.
However, the president may find the time to personally apply for registration with the CEC, Mr Peskov said. “We haven’t ruled it out,” he told reporters Tuesday, not clarifying when this might happen.
Russian media reported that the endorsement meeting cost Mr Putin’s supporters 900,000 rubles (£11,600).
After filing for registration, Mr Putin’s campaign will have to collect 300,000 signatures of voters who support his candidacy, since he is running as an independent candidate and not on a party ticket.
Ksenia Sobchak, another opposition candidate, was given a green light by the CEC to proceed with gathering signatures in support of her candidacy on Tuesday.
Ms Sobchak, a socialite-turned opposition journalist and the daughter of Mr Putin’s political mentor Anatoly Sobchak, is running as the candidate for the Civic Initiative political party.
As a party candidate she only needs to gather 100,000 signatures to confirm her place on the ballot.
Ms Sobchak, who has been widely criticized as a diversionary candidate mobilized by the Kremlin to draw support away from Mr Navalny, said in an Instagram post Tuesday that the CEC not registering Mr Navalny was “enormously unfair and yet another mistake by the authorities.”
She invited Mr Navalny to endorse her candidacy and become her “envoy” in the race.
“I’m urging all democratic opposition forces to unite. If I get on the ballot, I propose Alexei Navalny become my envoy,” Ms Sobchak wrote under a photo of her and Mr Navalny smiling at each other.
Ms Sobchak added that “boycotting the election is ineffective and harmful. It won’t lower the turnout – it will even increase the number [of the votes cast] for Putin and will allow him to get the 70 percent [of the votes] he desires.”
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