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Kremlin critic Navalny urges voters to back communists

Published September 15,2021
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Jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Wednesday urged Russian voters to back Communist Party candidates ahead of parliamentary elections this weekend, as part of a bid to weaken Kremlin-aligned candidates.

The State Duma polls, 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 -- 137 -- of the 225 alternative parliament candidates named by Navalny's allies Wednesday 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 is seen as a rubber stamp for Kremlin policies, is polling below 30 percent 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, President Vladimir Putin's most vocal domestic critic, was detained in January and later saw his political offices nationwide and anti-corruption group declared "extremist" and banned.

On Wednesday, four activists were detained on Red Square in Moscow after they held up a banner that read "Freedom for Navalny, Putin to jail", independent monitor OVD-Info reported.

According to a video posted on YouTube, the protest lasted less than 30 seconds before police took down the banner and rounded up the activists.

Russia's media regulator has 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.