Despite the arrest of a top Kremlin critic and police raids on the homes of several political activists, opposition leaders in Russia remained determined to go ahead with a planned protest in Moscow on Saturday.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was ordered jailed Wednesday for 30 days for calling “unauthorized protests” for this weekend to protest the disqualification of several opposition-minded candidates from the Sept. 8 Moscow city council elections.
Election officials have barred about 30 independent candidates from the ballot, saying some of the 5,500 signatures they needed to get on the ballot were invalid. The rejected candidates say the reason for not validating the signatures is to keep genuine independents off the ballots and ensure the ruling United Russia party and others who do President Vladimir Putin’s bidding maintain dominance.
“If the United Russia swindlers don’t register the independent candidates and spit on the opinions of the citizenry, then all of us … will come to the mayor’s office at Tverskaya 13,” Navalny wrote on a social media post earlier this week.
Last weekend, more than 20,000 people marched in the streets of Moscow to protest the disqualifications. That’s when Navalny called for an even bigger rally Saturday.
Rejected candidate Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, also called for mass protests after a meeting between the disqualified candidates and Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova.
The Russian authorities appear to be adopting a carrot-and-stick approach as the July 27 demonstration nears. Pamfilova met with the opposition candidates and heard their complaints — one of which was that Moscow election officials had refused to meet with them and hear their complaints.
Pamfilova promised to consider the complaints of the disqualified candidates, but warned them that the CEC does not have the authority to overturn decisions of the Moscow Election Commission. She said the law grants local election commissions such autonomy to prevent Moscow from exerting influence on them.
Pamfilova also urged candidates not to participate in protests, saying “the influence of street protests on the CEC is zero.”
Navalny was arrested just hours after the meeting with Pamfilova.
On the ballot
Sixteen regions will choose governors in Russia’s Sept. 8 elections, including the city of St. Petersburg. Fourteen regions and the city of Moscow will select legislative assemblies, and 21 other cities will choose municipal councils.
United Russia has entered the election season with a record-low public approval rating. Analysts and Kremlin critics say the authorities are resorting to numerous “dirty tricks” and other tactics to ensure the party maintains the grip on power it has enjoyed through most of Putin’s nearly two decades at the country’s helm.