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Alexei Navalny stands inside a defendant dock before a court hearing in Moscow February 5, 2021. — Picture by Press Service of Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow via Reuters
Alexei Navalny stands inside a defendant dock before a court hearing in Moscow February 5, 2021. — Picture by Press Service of Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow via Reuters

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MOSCOW, Sept 15 — In a bid to weaken Kremlin-aligned candidates, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny today urged voters to back Communist Party candidates ahead of parliamentary elections this weekend. 

The State Duma elections, widely expected to hand an easy victory to the ruling United Russia party, follow a historic crackdown that has seen the Kremlin’s most vocal opponents imprisoned or exiled.

Ahead of the vote, Navalny’s team has promoted his “Smart Voting” campaign, an initiative that outlines for his supporters which candidate they should back to unseat Kremlin-aligned politicians.

A majority — nearly 140 — of the 225 alternative parliament candidates named by Navalny’s allies today were running on the Communist Party’s list.

Leonid Volkov, a prominent Navalny ally who lives in exile, said Russians who backed “Smart Voting” candidates would in effect be voting for Navalny.

“Now, by voting the way ‘Smart Voting’ advises, you have the opportunity to vote for Alexei Navalny,” Volkov wrote on the Telegram messaging app. 

Navalny’s team highlighted the names of 1,234 candidates for the lower house vote and local elections, saying they were best positioned to beat Kremlin-linked candidates. 

In the capital Moscow, they recommended Communist Party candidates in 11 out of 15 districts.

The nationwide list also features nearly 50 names of candidates representing the left-leaning A Just Russia party and 20 candidates of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party headed by firebrand leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

United Russia, which dominates parliament and seen as a rubber stamp for Kremlin policies, is polling below 30 per cent ahead of the vote which runs from Friday to Sunday.

“Victory over United Russia is one more step to winning freedom for Navalny,” his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh tweeted.

Navalny was detained in January and later saw his political offices nationwide and anti-corruption group declared “extremist” and banned.

Russia’s media regulator has since blocked dozens of websites linked to Navalny including his website dedicated to tactical voting.

The regulator has also pressured Google and Apple, demanding that they remove Navalny’s tactical vote apps.

In recent years, “Smart Voting” has led the increasingly unpopular ruling party to lose a number of seats in local races. — AFP

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