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Russian apprehensions

Russian apprehensions
If President Vladimir Putin's current approval ratings are at 80 per cent, why are he and his team still nursing apprehensions? Because election turnout is a cause for perpetual concern. True, the Supreme Court had turned down his main rival Alexei Navalny's appeal against the Central Election Commission's move, ruling that the decision to bar him from the race fully conforms to law. But, why such a move? Navalny had campaigned for the Presidency all year despite an implicit ban on his candidacy due to a fraud conviction which was seen by many as politically driven. Election officials formally barred him from the ballot. He responded to the ban by calling for a boycott of the vote—therein lays the problem. Election apathy could certainly affect Putin's credibility. The Kremlin has said authorities will look into whether such a call violates the law. Navalny repeated his call for a "voters' strike" after the court ruling. "We do not acknowledge elections without competition," he had declared. True, others feature in the upcoming election. They include veterans of the past campaign and star TV host Ksenia Sobchak. While none of them poses a serious challenge to Putin, the Kremlin is worried about voter apathy and has focused on boosting turnout to make Putin's victory as impressive as possible. The involvement of 36-year old Sobchak, the daughter of the late mayor of St Petersburg who was Putin's boss in the 1990s, could raise public interest in the race. While Sobchak has denied colluding with the Kremlin, her participation could draw some of Navalny's supporters towards her side and help improve turnout. Navalny, his supporters fear, could spend the election in jail. He was briefly detained in Moscow on Thursday. The best-known political opponent of President Vladimir Putin, he reported his detention in a series of tweets and said that the authorities had begun legal proceedings against him for organising anti-government protests. It is not clear when he may face court, but he could be jailed for a maximum of 30 days and could possibly still be in prison for the March 18 election. The Kremlin appears to have made efforts to stifle the main opposition before the vote and Putin is expected to win by a landslide. Navalny is calling on the Russians to boycott the election to strip Putin of his legitimacy. He has been arrested many times, including in January. Navalny rose to prominence in the recent years by posting investigative stories online about the alleged corrupt practices of Russia's elite. Authorities recently shut down his website as well as several social media accounts. Not surprisingly, the Kremlin rejects allegations of widespread high-level corruption and condemns Navalny as a dangerous threat to the country's stability.

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