Given that The Frontier holds only one seat in the Legislative Council and three in the district councils, there is no denying that its planned merger with the Democratic Party will hardly bolster the latter's overall strength. Moreover, the downsides are obvious. The possibility of teething problems, even bitter disputes, during formal negotiations for the merger cannot be ruled out. And even after the merger, it will be a challenge for members of the two groups to work together. Doubters, therefore, have a point when they dismiss the merger plan as largely a political gimmick with no substantive benefits for either party. Cynics may even see it as a move by Emily Lau Wai-hing to find a new home for Frontier members after her expected departure from electoral politics when her current term ends in 2012. It is equally true that a merger between any of the pan-democratic groups will not come easily, given the history, structure and dynamics within the camp. Despite long-standing calls from supporters for the pan-democrats to foster a sense of unity by considering ideas such as a grand coalition, few have seemed amenable to these thoughts. One widely held view, which has been proved true before the latest merger initiative was announced, is that the pro-democracy camp is riddled with deep-rooted factional and interpersonal conflicts. The notion of 'unity is strength' is beyond dispute. When it comes to real-life politics, however, most, if not all, democrats are adamant that they should maintain their own identity - or, to put it plainly, retain their own turf. They have become resigned to the reality that there is little they can do to change the state of the pan-democratic camp, which remains fragmented. Regardless of the real motives of the Democrats and The Frontier, it is highly significant that they have overcome what outsiders see as a mental block within the camp about the possibility of a merger. The change of thinking is not difficult to understand, however. Defying the gloomy forecasts of her chances in the Legco election, Ms Lau was re-elected, albeit by a small margin. The Democrats also did better than expected, thanks to their successful vote- canvassing strategy in some geographical constituencies. They also admitted that lady luck played a part. There is some truth in that. It is also clear that pro-democracy voters, when it comes to critical times, still believe and expect the pan-democrats to be more trustworthy than the pro-establishment force when it comes to playing the role of government monitor. Survivors of hard-fought election battles, both Ms Lau and the Democrats know better than many that they have to cherish the opportunity given to them by their supporters and do a better job in the next four years. At a joint press conference on Sunday, Ms Lau said she was hoping 'one plus one' would be far greater than two. Yet, it is too early to tell what the synergy effect of the merger may be. With the tide of the democratic movement ebbing, and the prospect of universal suffrage still unclear, Ms Lau and veteran Democrats seem to have realised the importance of breathing fresh air into the otherwise stale political atmosphere. In the short-term, the proposed merger will lift the mood and morale within the two groups and among their supporters by imbuing a sense of change in meeting the challenges ahead. A smooth and successful merger will set a good precedent and build the momentum for talks with other like-minded pan-democratic parties, in particular the Civic Party, to establish, in the medium to long term, a grand coalition. Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.