Moscow Elections To Leave Russia Opposition Off Ballot The people of Moscow choose a city council on Sunday, in an election critics call meaningless. Despite weeks of protest, opposition candidates will not be on the ballot.
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Moscow Elections To Leave Russia Opposition Off Ballot

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Moscow Elections To Leave Russia Opposition Off Ballot

Moscow Elections To Leave Russia Opposition Off Ballot

Moscow Elections To Leave Russia Opposition Off Ballot

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The people of Moscow choose a city council on Sunday, in an election critics call meaningless. Despite weeks of protest, opposition candidates will not be on the ballot.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tomorrow is a local election day in Russia. In a country where one leader, Vladimir Putin, controls the political system from top to bottom, you might think voting is just a formality. But in Moscow, city council elections that nobody used to care about have now become a test for Putin's regime. NPR's Lucian Kim reports.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: This summer in Moscow has been a season of fear - citizens fearing their own government and that same government fearing its people.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Russian).

KIM: In July, protesters shouting let them run took to the streets after authorities barred opposition candidates from running in Moscow city council elections. The election commission claimed the candidates had not collected enough valid signatures, while the opposition said President Putin could not face the possibility of his harshest critics winning elected office in the Russian capital.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Shouting in Russian).

KIM: Moscow's mayor, a staunch Putin loyalist, responded to the growing protests with riot police and mass arrests.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLICE SIREN)

KIM: Opposition candidates were put in jail, and some protesters faced criminal charges. This week, one was sentenced to five years for tweets he'd made, while another got four years just for attending unauthorized rallies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Putin defended the harsh response, saying people have the right to protest but only if they act in what he called the interests of the country. The crackdown betrays the Kremlin's nervousness about the election but also had its intended effect.

(SOUNDBITE OF HARMONICA)

KIM: At a protest march last weekend, the mood was much more subdued.

YEKATERINA BELENKINA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Protester Yekaterina Belenkina, an art historian, says, of course she's afraid, but she feels obligated to defend what's left of her freedom of expression. Meanwhile, Putin's loudest critic, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, believes he can still spoil Sunday's election even without a single candidate in the race. In a series of investigative reports on his YouTube channel, Navalny has been focusing on the unexplained wealth of officials in the ruling party, United Russia. In this video, he lists the luxury cars owned by a Moscow politician.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEXEI NAVALNY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: While Putin himself still enjoys high approval ratings, United Russia is so unpopular all of its candidates are hiding their affiliation and running as independents in the Moscow city elections.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NAVALNY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Navalny says angry voters should not boycott the election but consider it a referendum on Putin and cast protest ballots to kick out pro-government lawmakers. Somebody clearly does not like Navalny's plan. Mass police have repeatedly raided the offices of his Anti-corruption Foundation. Its equipment has been confiscated and its bank accounts blocked. But Navalny isn't giving up. He says Sunday's election is just the first step in changing Russia's government.

Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

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