2011/12/27

Navalny ready to challenge Putin in 'fair' polls

MOSCOW, December 27, 2011 (AFP) - Russia's popular anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny has said he is ready to challenge Vladimir Putin in presidential polls but only if they are fair and the current election laws changed.

Navalny can no longer register for March 4 presidential elections because the registration period expired earlier this month. But he and other anti-Putin figures have called for the polls to be delayed amid the wave of protests.

"I am ready to fight to make sure that we get fair elections," Navalny told Moscow Echo radio.

"When we get a chance to take part in elections, I am ready to fight for leading positions, including in the presidential vote," he said in the interview late Monday.

The 35-year-old, a lawyer by profession, has emerged as one of Russia's most prominent and charismatic opposition leaders and his blog is one of the country's most widely-read websites.

He received a rapturous welcome at a mass opposition rally Saturday against contested December 4 parliamentary elections won by Putin's party and roused tens of thousands of supporters with a fiery anti-Putin speech.

The Russian premier announced plans in September to swap jobs with President Dmitry Medvedev and return to the presidential post he held between 2000 and 2008.

Navalny said he would be pushing demonstrators to come out for even bigger rallies that force the authorities to delay the presidential vote until current political party restrictions are lifted.

"This vote that we will be having will not be an election. They will be illegitimate no matter what happens. We will never recognise them," Navalny said.

Navalny on Saturday warned the authorities they faced a million-strong march should they fail to cede to protestors' demands for free elections.

"Perhaps I am being too primitive, but if we get a million people out on the street ... then that is it -- they will not be able to do anything to us. And then they will meet all our demands," Navalny told Moscow Echo radio.