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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Merger of Unity and Fatherland Called Off

The much-touted plans for a merger of the pro-Kremlin Unity party and the Fatherland-All Russia movement melted away Thursday when the leaders of the two groups decided to restrict their cooperation to forming a coalition ahead of the 2003 parliamentary elections.

Unity leader Sergei Shoigu announced the decision after meeting Thursday with Fatherland-All Russia leader Yury Luzhkov. Shoigu refused to elaborate but he downplayed any feelings of bitterness over the failed merger.

"You expect bad news from us, while we will bring you good news tomorrow," Shoigu said, Interfax reported. A joint council assigned to work on forming a coalition was to meet Friday, he said.

The two groups announced in April that they intended to merge and thus create the largest faction in the State Duma. But right off the bat they were faced with a number of problems.

One was that Fatherland was not willing to disband and join Unity, and if both disbanded to form a new party, it would have to re-register with the Justice Ministry. By law, political parties are allowed to participate in elections only after they have been registered for a year, and if the Duma were dissolved before then, the new party would be unable to participate in new elections. This was a risk neither party was willing to take.

Another problem was that although neither Unity nor Fatherland has a clear ideology, their positions proved just different enough to trip up a merger. While Unity supports the liberal economic principles of the Kremlin, Fatherland stands firmly by its more socialist principles.

"It turned out that there are fewer things that bring them together than pull them apart," said Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center said.

Ryabov said the idea behind the union had been to combine Unity's clout in the regions with the strong personalities of Fatherland, which in addition to Mayor Luzhkov has a former prime minister, two former deputy prime ministers and a number of other former Cabinet ministers in its ranks.

One aim of the merger was to put an end to the Communists' dominance of the Duma since 1995. It would have given the new party a total of 131 votes in the 450-seat Duma, surpassing the 129 votes controlled by the Communist Party and its Agrarian allies.

But it was not at all clear that Unity, at least, would derive any benefit in elections from a merger. According to a recent poll conducted by VTsIOM, Unity enjoys the support of 22 percent of voters, while Fatherland can count on 6 percent of the vote. But if the two parties merged, they would still attract only 22 percent of the vote. One assumption is that many of Fatherland's supporters would defect to the Communists rather than vote for Unity.