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Ukrainian President's Party to 'Interview' Candidates for July Elections

Dmytro Razumkov (R) and Oleksandr Korniyenko, leaders of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's political party Servant of the People, speak at a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 27, 2019.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's newly formed political party has appointed campaign adviser Dmytro Razumkov as its head and will interview prospective candidates to fill its party list ahead of snap parliamentary elections in July, party representatives have said.

The announcement was made by Razumkov, who spoke Monday at a press conference along with Oleksandr Korniyenko, head of the Servant of the People party's election headquarters, and Mykhaylo Fedorov, the party's chief of digital strategies.

Razumkov, the director of a political consulting company, got his start in politics as a member of the former Party of Regions of Viktor Yanukovych, the Moscow-friendly president who was pushed from power by the Maidan protest movement in 2014 and fled to Russia.

He said that at a recent party congress he was elected in place of Ivan Bakanov, a campaign adviser and lawyer for Zelenskiy's Kvartal 95 entertainment company whom the new president appointed to be first deputy head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) on May 22.

A comic actor with no previous political experience, Zelenskiy beat incumbent Petro Poroshenko by a large margin in an April 21 presidential runoff. A day after his May 20 inauguration, he signed a decree to dissolve parliament and scheduled new elections for July 21.

The new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds up a mace or "bulava," the Ukrainian symbol of power, during his inauguration ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 20, 2019.
The new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds up a mace or "bulava," the Ukrainian symbol of power, during his inauguration ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 20, 2019.

The early vote is a chance for Zelenskiy to increase his clout early in a five-year term by getting supporters into the single-chamber legislature in the country of 44 million, which faces constant pressure from Russia as well as economic challenges and problems with corruption.

In line with previous practices by Zelenskiy, who has crowdsourced policies and potential cabinet members, Korniyenko said that Servant of the People will select candidates for the elections from applications submitted to a party website. Successful applicants must then pass a compliance test to ensure their views align with the president's and undergo interviews with the party's leaders, he said.

Korniyenko at first said that no current lawmaker would be allowed on the party's candidate list but then backtracked, saying that some may be considered if they had produced what the party deemed to be "quality work" during their time as lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada or Supreme Council.

A poll conducted this month by the Rating Sociological Group found that 43.8 percent of Ukrainian voters supported the Servant of the People party, while 10.5 percent supported the pro-Russian Opposition Platform - For Life and 8.8 percent backed the Western-oriented Petro Poroshenko Bloc of the former president, which was recently renamed European Solidarity.

The 450-seat Rada is elected through a mix of party-list voting and voting in direct races between candidates in geographical electoral districts. To win seats in the party-list voting, a party must receive at least 5 percent of the votes cast nationwide.

Also at the press conference, Fedorov displayed the Servant party's new logo: a silhouette of Zelenskiy riding a bicycle and wielding the presidential mace, or "bulava." The image is strikingly similar to that of the accidental-president character Zelenskiy played on his hit TV show, also called Servant of The People.