Why Mongolia's Elections Matter
© Julian Dierkes
Mongolia’s 6th parliamentary elections in June presented interesting challenges for Mongolian politics. According to Mendee Jargalsaikhan, though the Democratic Party won with a slight majority, it must now form a coalition government with other parties if it is to be able to make major political and economic decisions. Accountable government and responsible mining practices are becoming frontline issues in domestic politics, amidst the backdrop of consistent economic growth.
Mendee is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. He has also worked at the Mongolian Embassy in Washington, DC, at Mongolia’s Ministry of Defence, and at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Ulaanbaatar.
Three Questions for Mendee
How did Mongolia’s recent election differ from past elections?
This year’s election differs from past elections in several ways. First, the introduction of a mixed electoral system provides greater opportunities for smaller parties. Mongolia has a unicameral parliament with 76 members, and under the new system, 28 members were nominated from the political party lists while the other 48 were elected through the majoritarian system. As a result, the two major political parties are now more vulnerable than before. Second, a gender quota was introduced for the first time. The new parliament now has 9 female members, who have now formed the first-ever women caucus – aimed at advancing political gender equality. Third, the new parliament has more representatives from civil society organizations. Finally, there were number of innovations introduced in the elections – the implementation of new technologies (biometrics, electronic counting), the inclusion of diaspora voting, conducting parliamentary and local elections (esp., of the capital city) simultaneously, and increasing role of judicial institutions, anti-corruption agency, and police in screening candidates. These changes have meant that unless one of two major parties explicitly fails or succeeds to run the government, chances for overwhelming majority by one political party is unlikely. Furthermore, all parties avoided inciting violence, unlike from the past two elections. This can be attributed to limiting participation of the political parties in organization elections and increased security from police personnel.
How has the government responded to public opinion on corruption?
Corruption is the most important concern for the public. Corruption was prominent in the 1990s when state institutions, especially judicial and law enforcement institutions, were weak due to political and economic transitions. As corruption became prevalent, public pressure has steadily increased since early 2000. In 2006, the parliament passed an anti-corruption law and established an independent agency to tackle corruption. Optimists would say that Mongolia has successfully institutionalized anti-corruption efforts by establishing a new legal environment, increasing investigations of public officials, and raising the deterrence for public servants to abuse their powers. Pessimists, on the other hand, would argue that Mongolia’s fight against corruption has proven fruitless so far. Moreover, politicians have started using anti-corruption rhetoric as a method to marginalize/demean their opponents and win popularity. My views are somewhere in between - the prosecution of the former President on charges of abuse of his political authority was an important step forward, but allegations are noticeably one-sided as only minority party members or affiliated officials considered are suspicious.
How does Mongolia’s mining sector factor into domestic politics?
Mongolians view the mining sector with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the mining sector can provide greater economic growth, investment, technology, infrastructure development, and employment. But, on the other hand, it poses enormous challenges for country’s pristine environment, sustainability of key resources (e.g., pastures, water), and nomadic lifestyles. For instance, major mining exploration and extraction operations are occurring in Mongolia’s Gobi area. Since these activities use extraordinary amounts of water, they resort to using up un-renewable underground water sources. What would happen to the Gobi area’s ecology, its 33 oases, and its pastures? This would certainly contribute to Mongolia’s rapid desertification and more dust storms for Northeast Asian cities like Beijing, Seoul, and Taipei. Similarly, many rivers have been exposed to mining pollutants and pastures have been destroyed by other mining activities, including artisanal mining. Increased enforcement of new legislation which prohibits mining and exploration in forestry and river basins, the introduction of new regulatory mechanisms (e.g., license issuance, closure plans), and proposed changes in mining laws are just reflections of increased public outcry against irresponsible mining.
I think this public outcry will become more vociferous because the mining sector has been identified as one of the main sources of corruption (esp., regarding licenses and violation of regulations). At the same time, some populist politicians will likely use this public outcry for their own short-term political goals.