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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Election Foes Forge Joint Duma Agenda

Political realities made unlikely allies out of three minority factions in the State Duma, but Fatherland-All Russia, the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko said Monday they have found common ground to work together on a number of substantial legislative initiatives.

They unveiled a program that includes doing away with deputies' immunity from prosecution, lowering taxes, reforming the judicial system and passing a law on alternatives to military service.

"The rumors of our death [as a coalition] have turned out to be strongly exaggerated," Yabloko Deputy Sergei Ivanenko said at a joint news conference with representatives of the other two factions.

The three factions banded together after the Communists and the pro-government Unity faction divided among themselves all the key positions in the Duma, parliament's lower house, at its first session Jan. 18. They boycotted the first several Duma sessions, eventually announcing they would return this Wednesday.

While Russia's liberals have long hoped for cooperation between the Right Forces and Yabloko, Fatherland-All Russia was previously seen as the natural ally of the Communist faction.

But at Monday's news conference, Fatherland-All Russia Deputy Valery Grebennikov enthusiastically promoted the liberal agenda. Specifically, he spoke of the need to continue judicial reform, a process that was begun in the early '90s but soon ground to a halt.

Grebennikov said judicial reform included expanding the institution of jury trials - currently at work in only nine of Russia's 89 regions - and revamping the criminal and civil codes.

In his speech to the Duma on its opening day, acting President Vladimir Putin named passage of new criminal and civil codes as things that should be top priorities of the new legislature. This seems to indicate that Unity will support such measures.

But Lev Levinson, who has helped draft many human rights-related bills and is currently an aide to Right Forces Deputy Sergei Kovalyov, was skeptical.

"Reform can go either way," he said, pointing to the latest criminal code, which went into effect in 1997 and is not considered much of an improvement by human-rights advocates.

Levinson said that in the previous Duma it was the pro-government factions, including Our Home Is Russia, that held up judicial reform. At that time, Grebennikov sat with Our Home and, according to Levinson, did "absolutely nothing" for reform from his post as deputy chairman of the committee on legislation and judicial reform.

Another much-awaited reform, that of the tax system, may be more realistic to expect from the new Duma.

Alexei Zabotkin, an economist at investment bank United Financial Group, said that due to improvements in tax collection, the government - and thus, Unity - will likely not be opposed to lowering taxes.

But he said such a reform could not be expected for this fiscal year since the budget is already set. The issue is not likely to be discussed in the Duma until after presidential elections, when a prime minister will be appointed, he added.

Missing from the list of joint initiatives was legislation on the purchase and sale of land, a key issue on the liberal platform.

"Our faction does not have a unified viewpoint on this issue," Grebennikov said.

But Right Forces Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin said he and two other deputies from his faction had submitted a land bill to the Duma on Jan. 31.