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5 Jul, 2021 14:46

Main Russian liberal party rejects top Navalny ally from standing as candidate, after founder slammed campaigner as nationalist

Main Russian liberal party rejects top Navalny ally from standing as candidate, after founder slammed campaigner as nationalist

Yabloko, Russia’s most prominent liberal political bloc, has rejected an application by a former campaign chief of jailed opposition activist Alexey Navalny to stand as a parliamentary candidate in upcoming elections.

Irina Fatyanova, who became the opposition figure’s St. Petersburg organizer in 2019, was turned away by the centrist Yabloko party as a candidate for the local assembly in the Baltic city. Before it was dissolved after being designated by a court as an extremist organization earlier this year, the activist had led Navalny’s political operation in the country’s second city.

Yabloko, which has long been the main faction advocating a Russian version of Western-style liberalism, has previously condemned Navalny and his allies. “Everyone must decide whether to support Navalny or not,” Grigory Yavlinsky, the party’s founder wrote in February. “But you need to understand. A democratic Russia, respect for people, and a life without fear and repression are incompatible with Navalny’s policies.”

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The anti-corruption campaigner, who is now serving time in a prison colony for breaching the terms of a suspended sentence handed down for fraud, has repeatedly come under fire from opponents accusing him of xenophobia and kowtowing to right-wing nationalism. One grim incident, frequently cited by his detractors, saw Navalny pretending to shoot a Muslim terrorist in a video advocating gun ownership.

In 2007, Yabloko expelled Navalny from the party, over what it termed "nationalist activities," with Yavlinksy himself condemning the campaigner. After that, he became openly associated with the so-called Russian March, a far-right annual event that has been held annually in Moscow. Previous years have seen demonstrators in camouflage gear venting frustration at migration policies with chants of “Russian for Russians.” Nazi salutes and the flying of black, yellow, and white Imperial Russian flags, associated with the country's fascist movement, have also been widely reported.

Not all of Yavlinsky’s political supporters agree with his verdict, however. “Either our party can represent these people or we’ll be left without voters – the only oxygen for political parties,” Lev Shlosberg, one of Yabloko’s leading figures has warned, arguing that Navalny’s popularity among some sections of highly motivated young people shouldn’t be dismissed.

Last month, a Moscow court ruled that Navalny’s “Anti-Corruption Foundation,” as well as his network of political offices, were extremist organizations. Activists wound up the groups in anticipation of the ruling, but those previously involved will face bans from standing for election under the rules. Navalny’s supporters believe the extremism designation is an attempt by the Kremlin to dismantle his operation while he remains in jail, and remove all non-systemic opposition ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

Despite having secured a regional governorship and a scattering of local assembly seats, Yabloko currently holds no seats in Russia's national parliament, the State Duma. It is hoping to change that in the upcoming elections, billed to take place on September 19 this year.

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