Olympic wrestler enters ring for Ukraine's Zelensky

Kiev (AFP) –


Ukraine's new president Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday named candidates including an Olympic wrestler with Rwandan roots to represent his party in snap parliamentary elections next month.

Zelensky, a former comedian, has called early polls for July 21 in a move widely seen as a bid to cement his grip on power after winning a landslide victory in April.

On Sunday, his party, named Servant of the People, unveiled its first 100 candidates.

Short on experienced politicians, the list includes Greco-Roman wrestler Zhan Beleniuk, who won silver for Ukraine at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

The 28-year-old is the son of a Ukrainian seamstress and a Rwandan pilot killed in the country's civil war of the 1990s. He grew up in a one-room flat in Kiev.

He may become Ukraine's first mixed-heritage lawmaker but by entering politics is following in the footsteps of another heavyweight -- former professional boxer Vitaly Klitschko, who is Kiev's mayor.

Also on the list are Dmytro Razumkov, the party leader who was spokesman for Zelensky's campaign, and the CEO of the television channel that broadcasts Zelensky's shows, Oleksandr Tkachenko

Zelensky's Servant of the People party is named after his hit television show where he plays a history teacher unexpectedly elected president after he rails against corruption in a viral video.

"The Servant of the People is not a brand, it's our world view," Zelensky told a party conference.

"This is what will help Ukraine to establish a new system."

Established in 2017, Servant of the People has no representation in the current legislature. But it is leading in opinion polls with 48 percent support.

Analysts chalk up the newly created party's massive popularity in polls to Zelensky's high approval ratings after he beat incumbent Petro Poroshenko with 73 percent of the vote.

According to the latest opinion polls, four other parties are expected to top the five-percent vote threshold to enter parliament.