Russia’s electoral commission has ruled that opposition leader Alexei Navalny is not eligible to run in next year’s Presidential election due to a past corruption conviction.
Navalny has been formally barred from standing by the Central Electoral Commission on the grounds that he was found guilty of embezzlement from a state timber company in Kirov and given a five-year suspended prison sentence.
The Progress Party leader has also been arrested and charged with organising a number of anti-corruption demonstrations over the course of this year.
Navalny insists that all charges against him are politically motivated and intended to stop him challenging Vladimir Putin for the Presidency.
A statement from the electoral commission said: “Navalny does not have passive suffrage.”
People convicted of corruption offences are automatically banned from running for public office for 10 years after their sentence ends, the commission said.
Navalny’s campaign manager, Nikolai Lyaskin, told the AFP news agency the decision was unconstitutional, arguing that any individual not in prison was entitled to run for office.
The Central Electoral Commission’s statement said: “According to available information, on February 8, 2017, Navalny A. was sentenced under… the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation to five years of imprisonment with a fine of 500,000 rubles [€7,137], the sentence was suspended with a probation period of one year five months. Thus, at the moment A. Navalny does not have the right to be elected.”
Despite not having announced his candidacy yet, Putin is expected to run for his fourth term as Russian President next March.
Navalny has already opened campaign offices across the country and begun gathering the 300,000 signatures he needs to register as a candidate.
Discussing the prospect of Navalny being barred from standing with Politico back in March, Progress Party member Leonid Volkov said: “We want the downsides of the Kremlin not letting Navalny stand in the election to grow higher than the downsides of allowing him to run.
“This will happen when everyone recognises that keeping him off the ballot is a sign of weakness by Putin.”
A study released by the Pew Research Center last week revealed that while Putin retains the confidence of the Russian electorate when it comes to world affairs, the economy and energy policy, fewer voters now trust him to deal with institutionalised corruption, which is a key focus of Navalny and his party.
The poll found that Putin’s approval rating for dealing with corruption had slipped from 62% to 49% over the course of the last two years.