Russian election officials have banned Putin’s main opposition rival from running for president prompting calls for it to be boycotted.
The Central Election Commission has decided unanimously that anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny is not eligible to run.
He is implicitly barred from running for office because of a conviction in a fraud case which has been viewed as political retribution.
He could have run if he was given a special dispensation or if his conviction was quashed.
Vladimir Putin is running for a fourth term in office and is widely expected to win the March 18 election.
Over the past year, Navalny has mounted a grassroots campaign which has reached out to the most remote corners of Putin’s heartland.
Navalny is the most serious challenger that Putin has faced in all his years in power, and the court cases against him have been viewed as a tool to keep him from running for office.
In a pre-recorded messaged that was released minutes after the Election Commission handed down the decision, Navalny called on his supporters to boycott the vote.
He said: ‘The procedure that we’re invited to take part is not an election. Only Putin and the candidates he has hand-picked are taking part in it.’
‘Going to the polls right now is to vote for lies and corruption.’