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Month Before Vote, Jailed Opposition Figure Navalny Urges Russians To Use Voting Scheme


Aleksei Navalny gestures during a court hearing in Moscow in February.

Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has urged Russian voters to use a Smart Voting strategy, a project designed by his team to promote candidates to defeat Kremlin-linked figures, in the September elections.

In a statement on Instagram on August 19, exactly one month before the elections, the outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin again called the Kremlin-backed ruling United Russia party "a party of scoundrels and thieves" who "are scared of our Smart Voting."

The system, which gives voters a list of the candidates deemed most likely to defeat their United Russia rivals regardless of their party affiliation, is one of the last tools Navalny and his allies have at their disposal after a crackdown this summer outlawed his movement as "extremist" and jailed opposition voices across the country.

"They've declared half the country extremists to grab all the constituencies," Navalny wrote in the post, published a day before the first anniversary of his poisoning with what several laboratories in the West said was a military nerve agent, something Russia has dismissed as a Western smear campaign against it.

Navalny was imprisoned after returning to Russia in January from his recuperation in Germany after he survived the poison attack in August 2020 in Siberia. He has accused Putin of ordering his assassination, something the Kremlin denies.

"They haven't let the strong candidates [take part] in the election. Now even the ones that aren't that strong are being removed from the race -- they're scared of Smart Voting," he said, calling on followers to sign up to the system's mobile-phone app to implement a system Navalny's political network has been implementing for several years.

On September 19, Russia will vote to choose members of the Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, 39 regional parliaments, and nine regional governors.

In the run-up to the voting, the Kremlin has cracked down on opposition political figures and independent media as the popularity of United Russia and Putin has been declining amid Kremlin's efforts to deal with an economy suffering from the coronavirus pandemic and years of ongoing international sanctions.

In his post, Navalny called on Russians to download the Smart Voting applications to their phones before the strategy's website is blocked by the authorities.

His team is hoping that enough voters will use the system to at least reduce United Russia's margin of victory and to cause it potential embarrassment in places like Moscow and St. Petersburg, where anti-Kremlin feeling has traditionally run higher.

"In this last month that is left [before the elections] bring a couple of friends and acquaintances to the Smart Voting. Let us join forces and at least try it," Navalny said.

United Russia secured a super-majority in the last parliamentary elections in 2016, but its rating stood at 27 percent earlier this month, its lowest in 13 years, according to a state pollster.

Kremlin sources have admitted that discontent across the world's largest country over stagnant or falling living standards could hurt the ruling party at the ballot box. But they have scoffed at the notion the Smart Voting system could impact the election.

Nonetheless, a spoiler tactic of enlisting candidates with the same name as opposition candidates who are likely to be successful in the vote has proliferated in recent months.

Under the scheme, minor officials or citizens unknown to the general public are approached with an offer to adopt the first and last name of a popular opposition candidate, usually changing their passport details to make the change official and then registering as rival candidates in their own right.

Occasionally, spoilers who already have the same name as an opposition candidate are found.

The hope of those behind such machinations is that a substantial number of voters who support the opposition candidate in that district will cast their ballots for the namesake candidate by mistake.

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