Navalny's Moscow mayoral bid in balance ahead of verdict

17th July 2013, Comments 0 comments

Top Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny was set Wednesday to be registered to run in mayoral elections, a day before a verdict is due on embezzlement charges that could see him jailed.

Navalny, who rose to prominence during unprecedented street protests against President Vladimir Putin that broke out in December 2011, is campaigning to run against current Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin in September elections.

Election officials said Navalny would be registered as an official candidate and allowed to run in the vote that is expected to be tightly controlled by the Kremlin.

The Moscow Elections Commission will meet at 1000 GMT to formally consider Navalny's bid.

"According to my information, everything is okay with Navalny so the decision will probably be positive," a commission spokesman told AFP.

Election officials will also consider the candidacy of another opposition figure, Yabloko party leader Sergei Mitrokhin.

Many critics see the authorities' willingness to allow Putin's top critic to run as an ominous sign, saying Navalny would have never been allowed to campaign had he had any real chance.

Navalny himself said he expects to be convicted in his embezzlement trial, adding that the only intrigue was whether he will be given a suspended term or sent to jail.

Prosecutors have called for a six-year penal colony sentence and one million ruble ($30,000) fine for the opposition leader for conspiring to steal timber from the government of the Kirov region where he worked as an advisor.

Even a suspended sentence would disqualify Navalny from running.

Navalny would be able to appeal the verdict and, if he is jailed, continue his election campaign from behind bars until a final ruling is issued.

He said however he would likely quit the race if he was jailed.

"If I am in custody then of course it will be a major question for us whether there is a need to continue the campaign as an officially registered candidate," he told mass-circulation daily Moskovsky Komsomolets in an interview.

Opinion polls show that loyal Kremlin lieteunant Sobyanin is set to retain the Moscow mayoral post, with support for Navalny in single digits.

© 2013 AFP

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