On the surface, the Mongolian elections held on June 9 may seem free and fair. Ukhnaa Khürelsükh, former prime minister of the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP), won with 68% of the vote, competing with Sodnomzundui Erdene of the Democratic Party (DP) and Dangaasuren Enkhbat of the National Labor Party.
In fact, candidates who could pose a real challenge to Khujlesuk are excluded. The two competitors who are allowed to participate have no chance of winning; they just legitimize the election by providing the appearance of a fiercely competitive election.
On June 25, Khujle Sukh was sworn in, thereby placing all government departments under the control of the People’s Party. This victory is largely the result of a strategy of the MPP and the country’s elites, who are more willing to rely on exporting goods to China rather than trying to achieve full democracy to get rich.
As a result, Mongolia’s democratic development has been severely damaged, because a single-party rentier country emerged under the MPP’s rule.
A well-designed strategy
In 1990, a peaceful democratic revolution caused the country’s Communist Party leadership to step down and the first multi-party elections were held. In the next two years, the bicameral legislature, still dominated by the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), drafted and promulgated a new democratic constitution and introduced a semi-presidential system.
Unlike many Eastern European countries, Mongolia has not disbanded or banned its Communist-era political parties. With the exception of the 1996 and 2012 parliamentary elections, the Mongolian People’s Party (reverted to its pre-1925 name, MPP in 2010) dominates Mongolia’s unicameral legislature, but every presidential election since 2005 has Failed. In the 2017 presidential elections, Khuzhele Sukh, a famous MPP leader at the time, worked with the opposition Democratic candidate Battulga to defeat the MPP candidate and control the party and the position of prime minister.
In 2020, the MPP won the parliamentary elections and won an absolute majority with 62 out of 76 seats. The main opposition Democrats scored poorly, winning only 11 seats. Despite this, it is expected that Khujlesuk will continue to work with Battulga as an informal partner, and MPs will send a weaker candidate to run for the current president in the 2021 presidential election.
However, in January, after protesting the government’s response to the pandemic, Prime Minister Khuril Sukh suddenly resigned, surprising everyone except himself. Although he justified the move with the necessity of taking responsibility, it was obvious to the Mongols that he was trying to get rid of the political alliance with Battulga in order to protect himself from the pandemic and win for himself. Presidency.
In April, the Constitutional Court ruled that there was a problem with due process and that Battulga was prohibited from re-operating. In May, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), which split from the MPP in 2010, signed a merger agreement with the ruling party to support the candidacy of Khurrasuh. Therefore, Ganbaatar Sainkhügiin, MPRP member, arguably one of the country’s most popular politicians and a candidate for the 2017 presidential election, was also denied the opportunity to run.
Subsequently, Battulga tried to pass a decree to close the ruling party, but was ignored by the court and parliament. The Democratic Party subsequently failed to unite its divided factions, and its former leader and enthusiastic Battul critic Erden Sodenomzundu was registered as an official Democratic candidate by the Mongolian Election Commission. When the election officially began, Dangaasuren Enkhbat, a technology entrepreneur from the National Labor Party, also joined Khürelsükh and Sodnomzundui.
It was obvious from the beginning that neither Sodnomzundui nor Enkhbat had enough popularity to compete with Khürelsükh’s vast resources for campaign activities and access to state institutions.
The former prime minister apparently also received support from Mongolia’s economic and political elites, obtained extensive campaign coverage through private channels, and went smoothly in the general election committee, which used to have disagreements with candidates. Even Battulga finally gave up the resistance and hinted in a TV interview that he was seeking reconciliation with Khurrasuh.
The ruling party issued cash for its 100th anniversary to its members in early March, arranged World Bank subsidies for herders close to the election, and flooded the public media with propaganda content.
Given these election conditions, the results are not surprising. Khürelsükh won 68% of the vote, Enkhbat won 20%, mainly from the economically better areas of Ulaanbaatar, and Erdene only won 6%, which is equivalent to the number of protest votes.
The Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe stated in its post-election statement that a highly regulated campaign framework, obvious resource inequality, excessive restrictions on candidate qualifications, excessive media supervision, and lack of independent information about candidates Information and lack of debate affect voters’ ability to make informed choices.
Join the “Community of Destiny”
This consolidation of MPP’s power was carried out in the context of a major economic crisis. Nearly half of Mongolia’s 3.3 million people are poor or at risk of poverty, and most of its foreign exchange is obtained by exporting goods to China. When the commodity supercycle (a period of persistently high prices of raw materials) stopped in 2014 due to slowing growth in China, it became the world’s fastest-growing economy just a few years ago and was in trouble. This allowed the International Monetary Fund to receive rescue funds worth 5.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2017.
After the collapse, there was a debate among the Mongolian elite about the impact of the rapid change of government on the crisis.The idea is that if Mongolia had a more stable government, it could have managed windfall income more effectively, attracted foreign direct investment, and promoted large infrastructure projects such as railways, pipelines, mines, power plants, airports, etc.
MPP goes a step further and insists that the country cannot withstand the upcoming commodity super cycle (which is expected to begin with economic recovery after the pandemic) to domestic strife, and that the concentration of political power will benefit the country’s development. development of.
While counting on the China-driven commodity supercycle to pull Mongolia’s economy out of the crisis, MPP seems to be accepting the “community of destiny” narrative of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), insisting that a country does not need democracy to develop.
Since 2016, the MPP leadership has been a frequent visitor to the “Communist Party Dialogue with World Political Parties” conference, through which the CCP aims to win the international support of foreign political parties and promote this narrative.
In May 2021, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Patrick Leahy emphasized the MPP-CCP relationship in a joint letter to Secretary of State Anthony Brinken, specifically accusing MPP Secretary-General Dashzeveg Amarbayasgalan. As if to prove this synergy, when the Constitutional Court was deciding the fate of the famous pro-Russian and anti-China Battulga, the vaccine delivery from Russia and China to Mongolia mysteriously stopped.
After the Parliament accepted the decision of the Constitutional Court, Sinopharm’s vaccine shipments resumed. The 1 million doses of Sputnik V purchased by Mongolia never arrived.
By following the CCP’s narrative of non-democratic prosperity, MPP seems to be taking Mongolia on a path to authoritarianism. If the current trend continues, the government will become a textbook case for electing an authoritarian hybrid regime that suppresses dissent, supports loyal elites through natural resource rents, and “appeases” the people through entertainment and pro-government propaganda.
Such a system is also unlikely to try to reduce Mongolia’s excessive dependence on China, which currently receives 90% of Mongolia’s exports. This will only make the country more vulnerable to Beijing’s coercive tactics.
Therefore, under the leadership of the People’s Party and the full endorsement of the economic and political elites, Mongolia’s democracy is slowly dying out.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.