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Alexie Navalny hopes to scupper Vladimir Putin's fourth term in office: All you need to know about anti-corruption activist

"Not letting us contest the election is impossible," 41-year-old Alexie Navalny recently said in a blog post.

The anti-corruption activist from Moscow is being considered the formidable foe Russia president Vladimir Putin has faced during 18 years in power. Though Navalny is prohibited from seeking political office because of a criminal conviction that is largely viewed as retribution and may not be able to run in the upcoming Russia presidential election taking place in March 2018, on Sunday he submitted all documents needed to register as a candidate to the Cheif Election Commission of Russia.

File image of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Reuters

File image of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Reuters

Navalny can enter the race if he gets special dispensation or the conviction is thrown out. The commission has the time of five days to decide whether or not Navalny will be registered.

On Sunday, Navalny appeared confident as hundreds of supporters nominated him for president, allowing him to submit the endorsement papers required for candidacy and putting pressure on the Kremlin to allow him to run in the Russian presidential election, scheduled to take place in March 2018.

According to Reuters, the anti-corruption activist won the initial support of 742 people at a gathering in a district of Moscow, above the minimum 500 required to initiate a presidential bid.

The Western-educated lawyer says he is the only Russian politician who has been conducting a genuine election campaign, travelling to far-flung regions over the past year and urging everyday Russians to vote for him.

"An election without us is not an election," Navalny declared before submitting the papers, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Putin, 65, is seeking a fourth term in office as president. The Russia president, who enjoys approval ratings of 80 percent, according to Russian agencies, is expected to sail to victory against token opponents, despite a litany of problems such as corruption, poor healthcare, and increasing poverty.

But does Navalny have what it takes to end Putin's run for the fourth term and prevent him from becoming the longest-serving Russian leader since dictator Joseph Stalin?

Born on 4 June, 1976 at Butyn, Navalny graduated in law in 1998 from Moscow's Friendship of the Peoples University, says Al-Jazeera. "He rose to prominence in Russian politics in 2008 when he started blogging about alleged corruption at some of Russia's big state-controlled corporations," the report adds.

According to reports, Navalny became minor shareholders in big national companies and would ask uncomfortable questions about state finances and corruption. Navalny relies a lot on social media to reach out to his supporters, mostly from the younger generation in Russia, and while talking about issues related to corruption.

"Ahead of the 2011 parliamentary election in Russia, which he did not fight as a candidate, Navalny urged his blog readers to vote for any party except United Russia, which he dubbed the 'party of crooks and thieves'. The phrase stuck," writes BBC of the Russian opposition leader.

Putin was re-elected in 2011, however, the anti-Putin rallies that shook Russia from 2011 to 2012 following claims of vote-rigging in the parliamentary polls, helped Navalny rise to prominence. BBC adds that Navalny was "arrested following the first protest on 5 December, 2011... but emerged to speak at the biggest of the post-election rallies in Moscow on 24 December, attended by as many as 120,000 people". Official figures quote the attendance at 24,000.

Though the protests died down, the Investigative Committee in Russia "launched criminal investigations into Navalny's past activities, even questioning his credentials as a lawyer".

In 2013, Navalny contested the mayoral election in Moscow, his first major formal election, against Sergei Sobyanin, a Kremlin-backed candidate. The activist lawyer came second, securing 27 percent votes. "Navalny launched hundreds of lawsuits contesting the victory of his rival," says Al-Jazeera.

BBC informs that Navalny was briefly jailed in July 2013 for embezzling timber worth $500,000 in the city of Kirov. He was awarded a five-year sentence during the first trial.

According to The Guardian, during the trial, Navalny vowed that he and his colleagues will "destroy the feudal system in Russia where 83% of the national wealth belongs to 0.5 percent of the country".

Though the conviction was overturned by the Russian Supreme Court, in 2017, he was handed down a five-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of about $8,500. Navalny had then termed it an attempt to "bar him from running the presidency in 2018".

In 2015, Navalny had to serve 15 days in prison for distributing pamphlets for an opposition rally on the subway.

Navalny's tryst with courts and the authorities has led some to parallel him with the Russian oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, however, he has faced criticism from the anti-Putin camp as well. Liberals in Russia detest Navalny for his 'flirtations' with ultra-conservative groups. At the same time, his education at Yale University has led some Russian nationalists to suspect his ties with the US.

Navalny, however, has built a robust protest movement that includes nearly 200,000 campaign volunteers despite persistent harassment of himself and his supporters and his offices being vandalised.

Just this year he has served three jail sentences of 15 days, 25 days and 20 days for organising unauthorised anti-Putin protests.

All of which has actually helped Navalny tap into the anger of a younger generation of Russians yearning for change.

Many critics scoff at Navalny's Kremlin bid but the plucky lawyer says he would beat Putin in a free election if he had access to state-controlled television, the main source of news for a majority of Russians.

During his end-of-the-year news conference this month Putin said the opposition was hoping for a "coup" when asked why Navalny had been barred from running.

At a congress of the ruling United Russia party, Putin on Saturday said the opposition should have a "clear programme of positive actions".

"We should respect the capable and responsible opposition. And being such opposition means not only having a desire, a readiness to argue with the authorities or accuse them of all mortal sins," said Putin, who refuses to mention Navalny by name in public.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Dec 25, 2017 11:58 AM

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