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 Khuresuh were 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 Suh was sworn in, thereby placing all government departments under the control of the People’s Party. This victory is largely the result of the 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 was 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 Party 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 Democratic Party, the main opposition camp, scored poorly, winning only 11 seats. Nonetheless, it is expected that Khujlesuk will continue to be an informal partner with Battulga, and MPP 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 in dubious due process to prohibit Battulga 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 Khujlesuk. 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 Battulga critic Erdene Sodnomzundui was registered as an official Democratic candidate by the Mongolian Election Commission. When the election officially started, 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 reports on private channels, and passed through the election committee, which used to have disputes 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 distributed 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 votes, 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 Shared Future”
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 population 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 rapid government change 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, US Senators Marco Rubio and Patrick Leahy emphasized this 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.
When Parliament accepted the ruling 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 autocratic hybrid regime, suppressing dissent, supporting loyal elites through natural resource rents, and “pacifying” the public 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.