Erratic, indecisive response . . .
After initially avoiding the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mongolia is nearing a full-blown crisis, with one of Asia’s worst infection rates. The nation of 3.1 million people has more than 26,000 active cases. New case counts are averaging around 1,000 per day, up sharply from 100 per day in early March. Many people blame the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP), which has a supermajority in parliament, for mismanaging the situation. They describe its response as erratic and indecisive, with mixed messages on safety protocols and restrictions that seem draconian while having no noticeable effect in reigning in the exploding infection rate.
Political machinations . . .
As if the COVID-19 crisis weren’t enough, President Khaltmaagiin Battulga of the Democratic Party (DP) lobbed a political grenade into the mix last week by threatening to dissolve the MPP. Battulga’s presidential powers were curtailed in 2019 by a constitutional amendment pushed by the MPP. There is speculation that his dissolution threat is a last-ditch effort to push back against an April 16 court decision preventing him and future candidates from serving more than one term. (Parliament has not yet officially accepted the court’s decision.) Meanwhile, members of both parties recently accused each other of unlawfully cosying up to the military, a striking allegation given that the Mongolian military has largely kept its distance from the country’s politics.
Roiling the pre-election waters . . .
This latest political drama will not help to stabilize the context in the lead-up to presidential elections, scheduled for June 9. In January, the then-prime minister and his cabinet abruptly resigned amid public outrage over their government’s ham-handed treatment of a mother and her newborn baby in a COVID quarantine facility. Some analysts say the outcry reflected more widespread dissatisfaction with the state of Mongolian governance. The country has been one of the success stories in Asia since it began transitioning to democracy in the early 1990s. The coming months may tell us whether the current political crisis is a bump in the road or a more serious indication of the state of Mongolian democracy.