(AFP) – Ukraine’s boxer turned opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said on Saturday he had decided against contesting snap presidential elections in May and would instead back the candidacy of businessman Petro Poroshenko.
“We have to nominate a single candidate representing the democratic forces,” Klitschko told a congress of his UDAR (Punch) party. “This has to be a candidate who enjoys the strongest public support. Today, this candidate in my opinion is Petro Poroshenko.”
Klitschko added that he planned to run for mayor of Kiev in elections that will be held alongside the presidential polls on May 25.
The former heavyweight boxing champion — a strong proponent of closer European ties — was one of the most influential and charismatic leaders of deadly street protests in Kiev that toppled pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych’s regime on February 22.
Klitschko was viewed as the most potent political threat to Yanukovych at the height of the protests and enjoyed the support of more than 20 percent of potential voters in late December.
But an opinion poll published by four respected Ukrainian research firms this week put him second in the presidential ratings with the less than nine percent of the vote.
Chocolate baron Poroshenko — the only prominent Ukrainian tycoon to join protesters at the Kiev barricades — ranked first with the backing of almost a quarter of the respondents.
Some analysts believe that support for Klitschko subsided once Yanukovych left power as voters began to look for other candidates with similar pro-Western leanings but who had more experience in politics and administrative affairs.
Poroshenko attended Saturday’s UDAR part congress. Delegates were expected to vote on whether to back his candidacy later Saturday.