Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was barred on Monday from running in next year’s presidential polls, election officials announced.
The decision by the central election commission was widely expected as election officials had repeatedly declared Navalny would be ineligible to run. Twelve members of the 13-member commission voted to bar Navalny. One member abstained, citing a possible conflict of interest.
Navalny is implicitly barred from running for office because of a conviction in a fraud case which has been viewed as political retribution. He could have run if he was given a special dispensation or if his conviction was cancelled.
Navalny, 41, who polls show would struggle to beat incumbent Vladimir Putin in the March election, said he would appeal and called on his supporters to boycott the election and campaign against it being held.
“We knew this could happen, and so we have a straight-forward, clear plan,” he said in a pre-recorded video released immediately after the decision.
“We announce a boycott of the election. The process in which we are called to participate is not a real election. It will feature only Putin and the candidates which he has personally selected.”
Navalny said he would use his campaign headquarters across Russia to support the boycott and monitor turnout on voting day, March 18.
Polls show Putin, 65, who has dominated Russia’s political landscape for the last 17 years, is on course to be comfortably re-elected, making him eligible to serve another six years until 2024, when he turns 72.
Navalny is the most serious challenger that Putin has faced in all of his years in power.
Before the commission voted, Navalny, dressed in a dark suit, had demanded he be allowed to take part in the election delivering a speech that angered election officials.
In one heated exchange, he said Russian voters’ faith in the system hung in the balance.
“If you do not allow me to run, you are taking a decision against millions of people who are demanding that Navalny take part,” he said, referring to himself in the first person.
“You are not robots, you are living, breathing human beings you are an independent body ... for once in your lives, do the right thing,” he said.
His supporters clapped him, but officials were unmoved.
Boris Ebzeev, one of the officials, said: “We’re talking about the law and abiding by the law.”
Navalny has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
He has been jailed three times this year and charged with breaking the law by repeatedly organizing public meetings and rallies.