Moscow (AFP) – Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has declared his intention to run in Russia’s presidential elections next year, is ineligible to be a candidate, the country’s central electoral commission said Friday.
“Currently Alexei Navalny is not eligible to stand for office,” the commission said in a statement, citing the fact that he is serving a five-year suspended sentence for embezzlement, which falls into the category of a serious crime.
Someone who is convicted of a serious crime cannot stand for public office for 10 years after their sentence ends, the panel said.
Navalny and his erstwhile business partner were convicted of embezzlement in 2013.
The European Court of Human Rights last year quashed the verdict, saying the men did not have a fair trial.
But the same Russian court held a retrial this year, issuing the same sentence.
President Vladimir Putin is expected to stand for a fourth Kremlin term in the March 2018 election, but has yet to confirm this. The nomination of candidates will begin this December.
The electoral commission weighed in as Navalny is already opening campaign offices across Russia to register supporters, since a presidential bid would require him to muster 300,000 signatures in the space of 40 days this winter to enter the race.
Navalny is currently serving a 25-day sentence in police cells as the organiser of an unauthorised protest after demonstrations on June 12 in which more than 1,700 people were detained nationwide.
The 41-year-old lawyer argues that he is eligible to stand for election because he is serving a suspended sentence and is not a prisoner.
In a legal confusion that Navalny hopes to exploit, the Russian constitution says anyone who is not in prison can stand for election.
His Moscow campaign chief Nikolai Lyaskin told AFP: “The constitution does not bar Alexei Navalny from participating in elections. The central electoral commission, with its statement, is trying to break the momentum of the campaign.”
Navalny stood for Moscow mayor in 2013, coming second against a Kremlin-backed incumbent with a Western-style campaign and a message of snuffing out corruption.
Navalny was allowed to compete in that race as he was appealing his first 2013 conviction.
<figure><figcaption>Russian jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a court hearing in Moscow on June 16, 2017 <span>Copyright AFP/File Andrey BORODULIN</span> </figcaption></figure>