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Ukraine: Student Movement Poised To Enter Parliamentary Race

Pora activists were at the forefront of last year's Orange Revolution A Kyiv court yesterday ordered the Ukrainian Justice Ministry to backdate the registration of the Pora student movement as a political party. In theory at least, the decision allows Pora, which spearheaded last year’s Orange Revolution that brought President Viktor Yushchenko to power, to take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Prague, 30 June 2005 (RFE/RL) – The Pecherskyy district court ruled that Pora should be retroactively registered as a political party as of 24 March 2005.

By doing so, the judiciary is paving the way for Pora’s participation in the upcoming legislative polls due to take place on 31 March 2006. Ukraine’s election law says a political party cannot compete for parliamentary seats unless it is registered at least 365 days before the polls.

Yuriy Polyukhovych is the leader of Pora's Kyiv branch and a member of Ukraine’s Popular Party. In comments made to RFE/RL, he hailed yesterday’s court ruling. “This is a renewal of justice and people are beginning to believe that common sense can prevail," he said. "This ruling shows that the 10,000 signatures that PORA had collected to register as a party were a fair decision.”

Yesterday’s court decision puts an end to a two-month struggle between Pora and the Justice Ministry. Pora had been seeking registration since 24 March, when it held its founding congress as a political party.

Arguing that only one-third of the signatures of support collected by Pora activists could be authenticated, the Justice Ministry first refused to register the student movement. It did so only on 1 June. But the belated decision came too late for Pora, which was effectively barred from taking part in the upcoming election.

Pora leaders have blamed Justice Minister Roman Zvarych for the delay and organized street protests to demand his resignation. Zvarych eventually voiced support for Pora against his own administration. Yet, relations between Ukraine’s newest political party and the Justice minister remain sour.

On 25 June, Zvarych reportedly shunned a planned television debate with Pora leader Vladislav Kaskiv, prompting an angry reaction from the organization. Zvarych was not immediately available for comment today.

Polyukhovych suspects many government officials -- and not only in the Justice Ministry -- are looking at Pora with suspicion. “It seems that in today’s Ukraine, the new government doesn’t want to see young, promising politicians on its side and that’s why we sometimes have to resort to different methods, such as the protests we had to organize when the Justice Ministry absurdly refused to register us, checked our documents four times and finally registered us, but did so on such a date that would have disqualified us from participating in the elections,” he said.

In a speech delivered at RFE/RL’s Prague headquarters earlier this month, Pora leader Kaskiv explained why in his view it is so important that Ukraine’s student movement continues the political fight.

“Today, with [our] new president, Ukraine is a reborn nation," Kaskiv said. "However we understand that this is not a final, [decisive] victory. [It is just] one more chance to become a great European nation with a new outlook and a reenergized people with an outstanding future. This is why we pledge today to not [repeat] the mistakes of the past. Pora will not allow the corrupt political old guard that ruled over Ukraine in the past 14 years to change its course again. We will not allow corrupt officials to seize power in Ukraine by putting on the orange color. Pora will protect the democratic victory of the people.”

Polyukhovych agrees, saying the organization had vowed to keep a watchful eye on the government.

“The situation forces us to participate in [the upcoming parliamentary] elections," he told RFE/RL. "It is especially true for those of us who have shown by their actions -- and not just by words -- that we, the youth, are well organized and capable of toppling any system that is against its own people. This is why Pora, together with other parties, must take part in these elections as they certainly will not be any less important – perhaps they will be even more important – that the last presidential elections in Ukraine.”

Polyukhovych says that provided Pora wins parliamentary seats it will not blindly support Yushchenko’s government, even though Kaskiv currently works as an adviser to the Ukrainian president.

“I believe this may not be necessarily an opposition, but a young, fresh viewpoint that will be heard, if not by the government, then certainly by the people, and if not in parliament, then certainly in local government councils,” Polyukhovych said.

Polyukhovych says Pora has still not decided whether to run for parliament on its own, or in an alliance with other political parties.

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