Party of Life, Rodina, Pensioners Merge

Itar-TassZotov, left, Mironov and Babakov shaking hands after announcing the merger at a news conference on Tuesday.
The Party of Life, the Rodina party and the Pensioners' Party announced Tuesday that they would merge, forming a left-wing alternative to United Russia.

The announcement cemented what had been expected for several weeks.

"We consider the practice of controlled and regulated elections unacceptable," Sergei Mironov, leader of the Party of Life and speaker of the Federation Council, said at an unusually packed news conference.

"In opposing United Russia, we are opposing the idea of a monopolizing political force."

The announcement of the merger and Mironov's comments were greeted with skepticism tinged with anger by United Russia officials.

"Declaring a merger does not mean anything," United Russia spokesman Leonid Goryainov said. "It only makes sense when parties merge around a certain program or ideology."

United Russia has itself been accused of lacking a clear ideology and serving as little more than a political vehicle for the Kremlin.

Goryainov added: "I'd like to ask why Mr. Mironov, who is now suddenly in opposition to United Russia, has been rubber-stamping all of the bills United Russia passed in the Duma for the past three years."

Mironov dismissed Goryainov's remarks. Contrary to Goryainov's suggestion that the Party of Life is controlled by the Kremlin, Mironov said, the fact that the party's candidates were removed from the ballot in the Sverdlovsk region shows it is, in fact, an independent force.

The new party is likely to be called Rodina, Life and Pensioners -- the Union of Trust, because all three parties wanted some part of their old names in the new party's name, said Igor Zotov, head of the Pensioners' Party.

During the news conference, the three leaders sat against a backdrop emblazoned with the new party's name on a mock ballot and, beside that, a check signaling support.

Mironov voiced hope the new party would pass bills "in the interests of the people."

Zotov added that the party would protect Russians from what he dubbed the harmful policies pushed by United Russia. The new party will have 1.5 million supporters nationwide, Mironov predicted. The leader of the party and the presidential candidates to be backed in 2008 have yet to be determined.

The Party of Life and Rodina last month announced plans to merge. The Pensioners' Party joined the mix earlier this month, after President Vladimir Putin met with Zotov at his Sochi residence -- an unusual move given that the Pensioners' Party has no seats in the Duma.

Rodina, which has appealed to nationalist sentiment across the country, was created with Kremlin support in fall 2003 to capture votes from the Communists. That year, it won 9 percent of the vote. Earlier this year, Kremlin officials, apparently worried about the popularity of Rodina's leader, Dmitry Rogozin, replaced him with loyalist Alexander Babakov.

The Pensioners' Party won just 3 percent of the vote in 2003. In subsequent elections, the party did better and, at times, outperformed Rodina. Political analysts attributed that to the party leader Valery Gartung's harsh criticism of the state. Gartung was eventually replaced by the Kremlin-friendly Zotov.

The Party of Life enjoys the least support of all three parties and, analysts said, has the most to gain from the merger.