By Sunil Dang
As a presidential campaign with predictable results kicks off in Russia, opposition leader Alexei Navalny announced his dark-horse bid despite the government’s warnings that he will be disqualified before the ballots are printed for the March election.
In a small forest and dacha community on the outskirts of Moscow, exactly 742 supporters raised small red voting cards in support of the whistleblower turned opposition leader, who over the past half-decade has become the most dogged foe of President Vladimir Putin. Navalny needed at least 500 people to formally nominate him.
When Navalny said ‘Putin you shouldn’t be president any more’, it was a rare, focused political spectacle in Russia that marked a contrast to the ebb and flow of protest over the past five years, one with a clear political agenda: to register the country’s most prominent opposition politician for the presidential election despite a seeming open-and-shut government case to keep him out.
Navalny, who was convicted of fraud in a 2014 verdict that he called politicized, is not allowed to run for president under Russian electoral law, which bars anyone with a criminal conviction from seeking elected office. He says nothing in the constitution prevents his bid, which is true, and argues that he should be allowed to run.
It is not clear that the argument will hold any water with Russia’s electoral commission. But Navalny supporters at the Sunday gathering shrugged off the doubts and reveled in the moment.
There were signs that this is anything but a normal presidential bid. The official address of the registration was: Fourth Street Serebryany Bor, Beach No. 3. It was so cold that the printers froze before they could spit out all the documents needed to be furnished to the election commission. Alexander said he was drawn toward opposition politics because of official corruption.
The head of Russia’s Central Elections Commission, Ella Pamfilova, has said repeatedly that Navalny would not be allowed to run for president because of his previous conviction. Yet procedure must be followed, and the issue of disqualification would come later. Last fortnight, workers at the election commission said they would wait for Navalny to deliver his nomination papers.
What I want to convey here is, if Putin believes in democracy then he shouldn’t behave like Stalin. There is no comparison between Putin and Stalin as later was a dictator while earlier is a democratically elected leader who has governed both as Prime Minister and President. Before going to polls, Putin needs to ensure that he should allow his detractors to voice their views even though it is against him. Running solo for the post of Russian President is neither healthy for Putin nor for Russia. Opposition must be kept on same page of democracy where the ruler exists, only then the beauty of democracy can be sustained.
I am amazed to see that even in Russia, rulers have an edge over their political rivals and government machinery is working hard to favor the ruling leader. But, Putin has enough to showcase as an incumbent President because he has brought forth the reverence of USSR days to Russia but at the same time it seems as if Putin has started to believe that he has gained the political stature which stands him above Stalin, which I again repeat is false.