Kremlin foe Navalny urges election day protests in Russia next month by voting at a specific hour

With most opposition politicians either in jail or in exile abroad president Vladimir Putin is almost certain to win his fifth term in office in the election

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears on a video from the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp during a hearing against the Ministry of Justice in Supreme Court, in Moscow, Russia, January 11, 2024.MAXIM SHEMETOV (REUTERS)

Imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Thursday urged Russians to show their protest of President Vladimir Putin during next month’s presidential balloting by voting at a specific time on election day.

In a social media statement relayed from the Arctic penal colony where he is being held, Navalny argued that by forming long queues at noon on March 17 to vote against Putin, people would make “a powerful demonstration of the country’s mood.” He said it could be “a real, all-Russia protest action that will take place not just in every city, but in every district of every city.”

Putin is almost certain to win his fifth term in office in the election because of his tight control over the political system, with most opposition politicians either in jail or in exile abroad and the vast majority of independent media in Russia blocked.

In addition, experts say independent monitoring of the balloting will be hindered by the fact that voting will be spread over three days on March 15-17, and an online voting system will be in place in many regions.

Despite those obstacles, Navalny’s team has said it would still campaign against Putin, and had urged supporters to vote for anyone other than him. Other opposition groups, in the meantime, had floated the idea of voters going to the polls at a specific time in a show of defiance.

Navalny’s ally Ivan Zhdanov said that “initially this idea appeared weak.”

“But then we sat down and did the math. There are 2,058 polling stations in Moscow, even if half a million people will show up at the same time, it will be 250 like-minded people at each polling station, which is already a lot of people at each polling station,” Zhdanov said on X, formerly Twitter.

In his statement from behind bars, Navalny said that it would be a “completely legal and safe” way to protest, and the authorities will have no way of countering it.

“What can you do? Shut down polls at noon? Stage a counterrally for Putin at 10 a.m.? Take a note of everyone who showed up at noon and put them on the list of disloyal people? But the turnout at noon is high anyway, there are lots of people, so it would be impossible to single out those voting against (Putin),” Navalny added.

He said “millions” of people will be able to take part, and “tens of millions” would witness such a protest.

Traditional street demonstrations in Russia have become rare under repressive laws adopted by the Kremlin, especially after the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022. The protests that take place — such as those which erupted in January 2021 when Navalny was imprisoned, or in February 2022 on the first few days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — are usually quashed swiftly, resulting in mass arrests.

Navalny is serving 19 years in prison on charges he rejects as politically motivated. Until December 2023, he was serving time at Penal Colony No. 6 in the Vladimir region east of Moscow, where he spent months in isolation. Then he was transferred to a “special regime” penal colony — the highest security level of prisons in Russia — above the Arctic Circle.

In January, long lines formed at the campaign offices of Boris Nadezhdin, a 60-year-old politician seeking to run against Putin with an antiwar agenda. Scores of people queued up in cities across Russia to sign petitions in support of his candidacy in what many commentators described as a safe way to show defiance and express protest against the Kremlin.

However, he has not yet been given a spot on the March ballot by the Central Elections Commission.

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