Guest Post: Not Hans and George but Battulga?

By Dénes Jäger

In Turkish media the result of the Mongolian presidential elections didn’t really attract much attention. Most outlets only published a footnote, while some, interestingly, depicted Battulga as being a candidate close to Vladimir Putin. Naturally, Turkey currently has other problems in front of its doorstep than reviewing its foreign relations with Mongolia. However, with a President and a Ministry of Foreign Affairs alienating their Western allies with thriving conspiracy theories and open hostility, the importance of peripheral friends might increase. Just a week ago President Erdoğan targeted Germany and the US at a rally commemorating last year’s attempted coup, underlining that he couldn’t care less what “Hans and George” want, but would listen to what Mehmet, Hasan and Ayşe had to say. Yet again the name Battulga was missing on this list – enough reason to review Turkey’s relations with Mongolia.

Soft-Power in Turkey’s foreign policy

The 2004 establishment of an office of Turkey’s Cooperation and Coordination Agency – TIKA in Ulaanbaatar was a milestone of the Turkish-Mongolian relations. Since then, projects in the fields of education, health, culture and technology with total volume of more than $20mio have been promoted. In 2015 about 1000 Mongolian students received scholarships for studying in Turkey. Likewise, TIKA encouraged the introduction of Turkish language courses to Mongolian universities. With the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) coming into power in 2002, development aid has been a substantial part of Turkey’s foreign policy. Now Turkey is counted as one of the main donor-countries worldwide, underlining its new-found confidence to be a leading actor on the global stage. This soft-power approach is most visible in states of the MENA-countries and Sub-Saharan Africa, where Turkey aims to establish an embassy in every capital.

From Neo-Ottomanism to Pan-Turkism

Turkey’s ambitions are reflected in the rhetoric toward its foreign partners. Especially in the last years, Neo-Ottoman motives have come up in speeches, as the muslim-majority countries in the former Ottoman-Empire are Turkey’s main target group. To please the ultra-nationalist electorate in Turkey, which the President needed to adopt the new constitution, elements of Pan-Turkism are also being hinted at when dealing with Caucasian and Central-Asian countries. (A quite vivid example was a ceremony held in 2015, were Erdoğan welcomed his guest with guards dressed in armors of the 16 Turkic states). Recent examples are the Turkmens in its neighboring countries or the Uyghurs in China, where the government is depicting itself as protecting power for all Turkic people. Somehow in this diffuse Turanist or Pan-Turkic ideology Mongols are often counted in that enumeration. Despite being neither a country with a Muslim majority, nor with a Turkic language, Mongolia’s steppe is considered to be the mythic homeland of all Turkic tribes. In a publication about TIKA’s work in Mongolia its director Dr. Serdar Çam refers to the Old-Turkic Orkhon inscriptions found in Mongolia and calls the relationship between the two countries almost brotherly.

Mongolia as new market

From an economic point of view Turkey is looking east, too. Especially since the economic boom following the financial crisis of 2008, Turkish companies want to expand to new emerging markets. In 2015 the trade volume between the two countries surpassed the $40mio threshold and Turkish officials have repeatedly underlined their ambitions to boost this number through an advanced partnership in the next years. In particular, Turkey’s expanding construction and energy firms seek new opportunities for investment in the area. Comparing the trade volume to Turkey’s total exports, however, economic relations are not a main factor in the two countries’ ties.

Not a model neighbor

Let’s come back to the opportunity of having a fresh start with newly elected president Battulga.

Right now the idea of Turkey becoming a desired Third Neighbour seems a bit far-stretched. Even though the two countries maintain good relations, Turkey’s lost too much credit in the international community in the last years. Ever since the attempted coup last year it is more and more difficult to distinguish Turkey from autocracies in the region. In its foreign policy Ankara even surpassed some contenders with erratic decision-making and the alienation of many former friends. Being already geographically stuck between Russia and China, Mongolia has nothing to gain from a Turkey leering at Moscow and Beijing. For Turkey, however, keeping up the prevailing level of relations might be desirable. Firstly, Mongolia fits the propaganda of the ruling party AKP and secondly, right now Turkey might be happy with any ally it has not alienated yet.

About the Author

Dénes Jäger ( is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the Central Asia Seminar at Humboldt University in Berlin. Having studied and worked in Turkey and Kyrgyzstan, he focuses on Turkish-Central Asian relations in his research and journalistic work.

Posted in Bilateral Aid, Dénes Jäger, Foreign Policy, Turkey | Leave a comment

New to Ulaanbaatar June 2017

By Julian Dierkes

I’ve been keeping a list of things that are arriving to/disappearing from central Ulaanbaatar: May 2016 | December 2015 | May 2015 | May 2014 | October 2013. More informal versions of these observations also appear in the /ulaanbaatar/change/ category.

I’ve copied the 2014-16 lists here and am adding to it. New items since previous posts appear in italics.

What has arrived?

  • sadly: Louis Vuitton, KFC, Burberry Kids, Ugg and a Porsche dealership (under construction)
  • Mini, Bentley
  • child seats
  • sidewalks
  • parks
  • farmers’ markets
  • yoga
  • dogs on leashes
  • Sunday morning joggers and bikers
  • burgeoning coffee culture
  • river walkway along the Dund River (under construction in May 2015 but looking very promising)
  • city park along the Tuul
  • sports cars
  • organic shopping
  • gated communities (virtually all the new developments towards and in Zaisan)
  • wheelchair accessibility (moved from “What Will Appear” category as ministries are now (meant to be) wheelchair-accessible
  • the “#замчөлөөл” hastag, a city campaign to shame property owners about their infringement of public space. Seems – quietly – very successful when you look at many photos posted. 
  • large-scale BBQ extravaganza on the banks of the Tuul river, particularly near the ASEM Road. On summer weekends, so many cars parked right on the riverside, BBQs planted right next to them, families camping out, some literally
  • Harley-Davidson
  • drive-home service for drivers who have been drinking. You call the service, they drop off a driver who drives you home in your car and is then picked up again. Given – fortunately – much stricter enforcement of drunk driving laws, a great service!
  • bike lanes

  •  street names and signs in the city

What has disappeared, or at least nearly?

  • stationary 80s-office-phone-looking old-granny cell phone booth
  • for-pay scales (actually, they seem to be hanging on)
  • free WiFi on Sukhbaatar, er Chinggis Khaan, er, Sukhbaatar Square, er, Chinggis Khaan Square
  • open gullys/missing manholes
  • street kids (they seem to come and go. In summer 2017 there were very few of them again.)
  • packs of dogs
  • smoking
  • the sixth-floor souvenir shop at the State Department Store (though perhaps seasonal)
    oversized sunglasses for women that were so popular across Asia (?) some years ago
  • Nescafé (see above on coffee culture)
  • surprise at seeing bicycles
  • hillside Chinggis visible from the city centre

What will appear in the future

  • navigation systems
  • mental maps shifting to street names/addresses instead of landmarks
  • bike lanes
  • new airport, apparently opening in 2018. I drove by there recently. Oh my, it far from the city!
  • subway (really, I wish they had selected light rail instead)
  • urban renewal and historical restorations embracing district north of government house (National University of Mongolia, German embassy, etc.)
  • road signs in the countryside (and not just the very random, very occasional ones that can be found now)
  • network of cross-country riding trails (though not in central Ulaanbaatar)
  • parking (meters)
  • Combined Heat and Power Plant #5 (yeah, right!)
  • hipsters discovering УАЗ (minivan and jeep)
  • Canada Goose, Arc’teryx.

What will disappear in the near future

I’m going out on a predictive limb here… 2-3 years is what I mean by “near future”.

  • stray dogs (very few in the city centre in this election year)
  • stretched-out hand to signal for a car ride
  • that awkward extra half-step on most stairs
  • whitening make-up.

What will disappear in the medium-term future

I mean around 7 years or so.

  • new (to Mongolia) cars that are right-hand drive
  • the neo-classical Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, with its Stalinist (if that’s an architectural style) spire [Tough call to make as the MFA building is now dwarfed by its own annex]
  • deels in the city
  • some of the downtown university campuses
  • buildings of 4 floors or less in the urban core
  • Russian minivans (УАЗ452) but see above.
Posted in Change, Curios, Social Change, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | Leave a comment

Populism and the Judiciary

By Julian Dierkes

Populists around the world seem to be targeting the judiciary as some kind of obstacle to implementing the “people’s will”.

Most recently, this is happening in Poland, where the governing party PiS is trying to usurp rights of appointment and dismissal over judges. It also happened last year in Turkey where the increasingly autocratic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been arresting judges and lawyers along with tens of thousands of others since the attempted coup d’état last year. And, perhaps most surprising of all, that grandmaster of populism, Donald Trump, dared to attack one of the most treasures elements in the U.S. balance of powers, “so-called judges”.

Why is this relevant to Mongolia?

The President and the Judiciary

Appointments of judges, but also of heads of various law enforcement agencies are one of the prerogatives of the Mongolian president afforded him by the constitution.

Just recently, I have argued that Mongolians have elected a populist in Pres. Battulga, not despite his populism, not because of it.

Pres. Battulga’s actions in appointments to the justice and security apparatus will thus be especially important to watch. So far at least, there have not been arguments in Mongolia that judicial decisions somehow stand in the way of the popular will. But, if Pres. Battulga finds himself accused of or attacked on corruption, he might lash out against those attacks by a) questioning the legitimacy of any court decisions, and b) using his control over parts of the judiciary to discredit or worse opponents. That would be a terrible direction to take, as the examples of the U.S., Turkey and also Poland show.

The independence of the Mongolian judiciary has been under some suspicion in any case. Many thought that Pres. Elbegdorj tended to employ parts of the security apparatus, including – ever-ironically – the Anti-Corruption Agency, for his political aims.

This has led to the resignation of judges in the past, but it also has led to the instrumentalization of the courts for political purposes. One example of that with direct relevance to democracy was the High Court decision against proportional representation in April 2016, just weeks ahead of the parliamentary election.

As many discussions of any judicial systems have emphasized, a judicial system is only as good as its independence, from politicians, from businesses, from all kinds of interests. In a country like Mongolia that continues to be plagued by corruption, this is especially important to uphold.

The coming months are also likely to see some conflict between Pres. Battulga and the Ikh Khural. Some of the opening shots have already been fired in regards to the recall of Ambassadors Bayar and Enkhsaikhan. In this conflict, the judiciary is likely to play some role, again because it is the area where the presidency has the most authority.

I can only hope that Pres. Battulga does not take actions in countries like Poland as a blueprint or example for his own relationship with the judiciary.


Posted in Corruption, Judiciary, Presidential 2017 | 2 Comments

Republished: Mongolia – An Unexpected Bastion of Democracy Thanks to Its Youth

File 20170718 10334 y34mla
A child walks past Mongolians holding up banners at a protest against offshore account holders in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in March.
(AP Photo/Ganbat Namjilsangarav)

Julian Dierkes, University of British Columbia

By some accounts, democracy is under pressure. Freedom House, the American think tank, entitled its 2017 report, “Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy.”

As the events in the United States, Hungary and Turkey illustrate, populism has played a particularly prominent role in fears about the decline of democracy.

Mongolia, meantime, held two national elections in the past year, one just last month. Both demonstrated that despite the temptations of populism, the country continues to embrace democracy. That embrace requires the engagement of young democrats in Mongolia and around the world.

Kh Battulga, leader of the Mongolian Democratic Party, goes to cast his vote at polling station Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia on June 26. The former artist and world champion in the martial art of sambo won the election.
(AP Photo/Chadraabal Baramsai)

Some political transformations travel through geographic proximity or ‘contagion,’ even in an age of global communication. That holds true for democracy just as it does for the decline of democracy.

Proximity to the European Union reinforced democratic revolutions across eastern Europe in the 1990s. Pro-democracy revolutions in the Arab world spread from neighbour to neighbour. Setbacks to democracy in Thailand and recently, the Philippines, look like a regional pattern.

Exception to ‘contagion’ rule

Mongolia is an exception to such patterns since its democratic revolution in 1990. It has continued to build a democracy in a hostile region where its only neighbours are China and Russia, with North Korea and Kazakhstan just beyond those nations.

As populists, some with decidedly authoritarian tendencies, swept across the world’s democracies, there was a reasonable fear that Mongolia might fall victim to the temptation of anti-establishment rhetoric offering simple solutions to complex problems — the hallmarks of political populism.

In the aftermath of world-leading growth in 2011 on the back of investments in mining projects, Mongolia’s economic fortunes declined precipitously, requiring an IMF-led bailout earlier this spring. Mongolia’s dominant political parties have not developed ideological profiles, and are largely built around patronage.

Given the primacy of economic concerns in many elections and on Mongolians’ minds, it seemed an electorate ripe for the picking for populists.

In the 2016 parliamentary election, however, virtually all members of parliament who had built up a populist profile were defeated, even though the majoritarian election system should have given them an advantage.

Mongolians cast blank ballots in protest

In both the 2016 parliamentary election and the 2017 presidential election — the fifth election in Mongolia for which I served as an international monitor — voters shrugged off attempts by the respective ruling parties to buy their support.

In 2016, it was the surprise announcement by the Democratic Party (DP) that 49 per cent of the otherwise state-owned Erdenet Mine was sold by its Russian owners to Mongolian investors. In 2017, it was the equally surprising decision by the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP)-dominated parliament to reinstate child payments and distribute shares in Erdenet Mine.

No candidate received more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election on June 26, amid reports of widespread vote-buying. In the run-off that became necessary for the first time ever, voters revolted against two-party dominance by casting a “none-of-the-above” blank ballot.

The blank ballot option had only been created with revisions to the election law in 2015. More than eight per cent of the electorate submitted blank ballots — an apparent testament to their frustration with the candidates nominated by large parties.

But isn’t new President Battulga a populist?

Yes, of course, the DP’s candidate — Khaltmaa Battulga, who won the run-off with 50.6 per cent of the vote — is clearly a populist by the characteristics outlined above.

The statue of Chinggis Khaan outside the capital city of Mongolia.

He’s not known for careful consideration of policy options, but instead for shoot-from-the-hip pronouncements. He parlays his sometimes odd projects — like the giant mounted statue of Chinggis Khaan just outside of the capital, Ulaanbaatar — into claims of business expertise. He certainly flirts with encouraging sinophobia. Battulga and his opponent also embraced patriotic symbolism in their campaign.

But these were not the reasons why he managed to win the election. Instead, many voters — beyond party stalwarts — elected Battulga to provide a counterweight to MPP dominance in parliament. This was a strategic choice to force a Mongolian version of cohabitation on the MPP-led government.

Building democracy from Mongolia

This overall rejection of populism speaks to the fact that while Mongolia may not have a long democratic history, it’s an evolving democracy that has popular support. More than a young democracy, it is a democracy that is carried by the young, as more than half of the population were born after the democratic revolution.

The biggest question for the fate of democracy, likely not just in Mongolia, is the engagement of a new generation of voters and democrats.

Will younger party members in Mongolia be able to force their parties to abandon a view of political office as an earning opportunity? Can they initiate discussions about an ideological positioning of their party, in part to give Mongolians a real voice in the future development of their country?

Some civil society activists will try to build on the success of the blank ballot movement as a basis for a new party aimed at redirecting political culture away from patronage to substantive debates. Along with any mobilization against corruption, that new party could transform democracy in Mongolia.

The ConversationWhile Mongolians did not contract democracy from their neighbours, their political choices serve as an example to the other emerging democracies of Asia, like Myanmar and the Kyrgyz Republic. Mongolian voters turning away from populism could be a part of a global resurgence of democracy.

Julian Dierkes, Associate Professor and Keidanren Chair in Japanese Research, University of British Columbia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Posted in Populism, Presidential 2017 | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: CIRDI Workshop Mongolian Young Professionals Shining

By Delgermaa B

Short reflection on the capacity building training organized on June 19-23, 2017, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Mongolian Young Professional are Shining

Just few weeks ago I had a chance to participate in the capacity building training organized by the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI) representing my organization the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in Mongolia. The training was focused on “The State’s Role in Resource Governance”. While the subject is clearly of importance for a resource-rich country like Mongolia, my expectation of the training was initially skeptical because sometimes we feel like a “vacuum class” in the mining sector – same faces, same room, same agenda and so forth. Interestingly, from the moment I entered the bus I felt a completely different atmosphere, because I didn’t recognize anyone of them except Tugs – the mining journalist – which left me feeling a little panicked! They were all young professionals that I hadn’t met yet from Mongolia, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. So at this moment, the journey started.


The bus drove off at 8:15am toward Nalaikh district which is located 40km from the capital city. I was thinking it is good that the training is going to be organized outside of the city, because usually many trainings failed due to poor attendance – namely most of participants leave the training earlier in the afternoon session especially if they are senior or mid-level government officials. So I quickly looked through the participants list in order to catch up who is in the bus. There were four officials from the Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry and two from Ministry of Finance. Moreover, state owned enterprises Erdenes Oyu Tolgoi and Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi were represented. I was not surprised about the absence of civil society representatives because the subject was “The State Role”, however two promising young journalists in the mining sector, Tugs and Bayarjavkhlan, were in the room.

So we arrived at the “Nalaikh coal mine” which is becoming case-study hub by its new image “the most dangerous mine in the world” because of its illegal pits. The goal of this field trip was to see how political instability and a poor regulatory framework could contribute to negative socioeconomic and environmental impacts. “Nalaikh was one of the first mines – established in the early 1920’s – and contributed to develop an industrial sector and to form a new class “worker” from nomads. Unfortunately, we stepped back 50-60 years although there still remains 60 millions of tons coal which are sufficient to supply energy and heating sources for 10 years of the capital city where half of the population lives.” said Mr Damdinsuren.L, honoured senior miner of Nalaikh mine.

Tavan Tolgoi

The next morning the team drove toward to South Gobi region, in which mine magnates such as Oyu Tolgoi (Rio Tinto) operate. Participants visited state-owned “Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi” and privately owned “Energy Resources” mines on the way for comparison. Attendees’ reaction was obvious saying that “as for the state it is better to focus on strengthening the regulatory framework instead of competing with the private sector as a mining SOE.”

Oyu Tolgoi and New Afton Teaching Cases

Finally, we all arrived at the “Bayanburd” tourist camp near tDalanzadgad, the centre of Umnugobi province.  Professor Eric Werker and Dr D Byambajav shared experiences on how the Canadian and Mongolian governments deal with local content issues through community development agreements at Oyu Tolgoi and New Afton mines. Right after the fruitful case studies, we participated in a role-play exercise representing multi-stakeholders on the negotiation table for establishing new community development agreement.

The group work was tremendously active with energetic “young professionals”. After long debate, real representatives who were part of Oyu Tolgoi community development agreement were invited to the panel for discussion. They shared their experience what was lessons learnt such as only negotiation process took one and half year, stakeholders were lack of knowledge what is benefit agreement and with whom it should be established ‘in aimag/province level or soum/district level’ and so forth. The questions were non-stop and the facilitator needed to jump in to wrap up the session. “I hope today you experienced how long and huge process it takes in order to negotiate and establish benefit agreement at the local level, it is the only one aspect. What should be included in the contract is another aspect. So, does Mongolia need to establish the local benefit agreement with every single mine?” said Dr Byambajav on a final note.

Targeting of Young Generation Very Productive

In conclusion, I really noticed how effective training design – class lessons, field trip, group work and peer to peer learning – and sensitive targeting particularly “young generation” could work stronger together to be successful. Actually our young professionals were so vigorous like “shining diamond” and kept the training alive and dynamic for a whole continues four days. Participants were happy with the output of the training noting that they are going back to home with lots of ideas and questions. “Although I deal with macro statistics of the mining sector daily, until today I haven’t been in the mine site ever. Now I much more imagine the picture” said Ms Tsolmon, Officer of Ministry of Finance. I am really happy like other participants that this training gave young professionals (especially government people) the opportunity to think about and to understand mining complex issues at the ground root instead of planning from the desk. It helped to raise more meaningful questions from a different angle of view for journalists and it created new research ideas for researchers that should go through in deep in future. To be honest, I found my research idea from this training and following up here in a beautiful Vancouver!

Thank you CIRDI team.

About Delgermaa

Delgermaa Boldbaatar is a Communications officer for the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative Secretariat in Mongolia. She has been working in the extractive sector for seven years, specializing in promoting multi-stakeholders dialogue platform, increasing public awareness on extractive governance such as transparency on policy framework, licensing and contracting, revenue collection and re-allocation. She is a recipient of a CIRDI fellowship at UBC and conducting research on the strategic goal of integrated resource management and enabling community engagement. Mrs Delgermaa is an MPP Candidate at the School of International Relations and Public Administration of National University of Mongolia and holds a bachelors degree majoring in Business Administration.

Posted in Canada, CIRDI, Delgermaa Boldbaatar, Mining, Mining, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Policy | Leave a comment

Change in the Countryside – June 2017

By Julian Dierkes

For some years, I have now taken notes about visible changes in Ulaanbaatar on my periodic visits.

In part this is note-taking for my own self, because there are so many things that I don’t remember already about the time when I first started coming to Mongolian (mid-2000s), and I want to use this observations as records for myself.

Also, since I come regularly, but with long intervals in between, some of the changes may be more visible to me than to residents.

So now, I’ll start a similar listing for the countryside. Though short visits to Mongolia for me mean that I don’t get out to the countryside every time I’m in Mongolia, but over the years these visits are regular enough that some notes might be useful.

Visible Manifestations of Social Change in the Countryside

What has Arrived?

  • Guardrails in some curves on major cross-country roads
  • While it used to be that street signs (speed limits, warnings of curves, etc.) were a curious rarity (“when there hasn’t been a sign for 100km, why this one?”) they now seem to appear in clusters.
  • The state is reasserting its authority in some places. Roadside safety inspections of vehicles have returned.
  • Fences around large parcels of lands. As far as I can tell these are hayed for winter fodder as nothing seems to be planted there. Fences keep out animals in this case to let grass grow.
  • I’ve long heard discussion that many of the projects carried out with the Local Development Fund were public toilets. I have now seen some of these!
  • Not all fences around xashaa (property lots) are wood anymore. There are some prefab concrete slabs, corrugated metals, etc.

What has Disappeared, or at least, Nearly Disappeared?

  • The clever move to simply drive cross-country around toll booths on major roads.

What will Appear in the Future?

  • Much more directional street markers.
  • Cross-country biking, hiking, and riding routes away from major roads.

What will Disappear in the Future?

  • Roughly in the 2000s, I would guess, more cars were beginning to show up in the countryside, but road-construction was not revving up yet. That meant that on big cross-country routes, entire valleys were scarred by multiple parallel tracks. Along the paved sections of major roads, these scars are slowly disappearing in the landscape.
  • At construction sites, the paved roads are often simply blocked with large dirt heaps across the lanes. Effective, but scary at night.

What won’t Disappear in the Medium Term?

  • Composite electricity poles. In the countryside these consist of a concrete base to which a wooden pole is tied with wire/brackets which ends in a triangle that has space for three attached cables. Metal poles have appeared, but I know similar composite poles from the Yukon and Alaska, so they  must be well-adapted to extreme temperatures and will thus last.
Posted in Change, Countryside, Curios | Tagged | Leave a comment

State of Digital Diplomacy in Mongolia Missions

By Julian Dierkes

With the appointment of Z Enkbold as chief of staff and Ts Sukhbaatar as foreign policy advisor, Pres. Battulga’s foreign policy team is coming together.

Foreign policy, of course, is one of the areas of policy-making that presidents have been active in, whether that be in chairing the National Security Council, travelling abroad, or in appointing ambassadors. Pres Battulga faces some specific challenges as I’ve argued in an article for World Politics Review.

Digital Diplomacy

But beyond the substance of relations with China and Russia as well as continued engagement of third neighbours, what is Mongolian diplomacy doing when it comes to digital initiatives? Digital diplomacy is an area that I’ve been interested in a Canadian context as well as for Mongolia. Digital diplomacy is the attempt to carry out diplomatic initiatives through digital means. I strongly believe that this is an especially attractive opportunity for a nation like Mongolia where the foreign service is small given limitations of personnel and financial resources.

As Mongolia will not be able to set up small or large embassies everywhere around the world or even in countries that it maintains close relationships with, there are opportunities for engaging stakeholders in Mongolia and abroad, but also for active public diplomacy through cost-effective digital means.

The high water mark of Mongolian digital diplomacy probably was the effort linked to the ASEM meetings.

Since then, and especially in the last year of the MPP government, digital diplomacy efforts have stalled at best.

Mongolian Missions on Twitter

Twitter is not the only or perhaps even the best platform for Mongolian activities. Personally, I think that the opportunities for thematic blogs written by diplomats, policy-makers and experts offer the most potential. Obviously, as I’m writing this on a blog!

But even blogs need amplification via other platforms and Twitter is one of the obvious platforms given its worldwide reach (except for China, significantly for Mongolia). And, Mongolian diplomacy had been well-represented online for some time.

Now? Not so much.

I’ve long maintained a Twitter list of Mongolian embassy accounts. If any missions are missing on this list, do let me know.

The list currently includes 28 Mongolian missions. But let’s see how active these missions are. I list them below by the county (embassies)/city (consulate) of the mission.
Australia: active (total tweets 2,882)
Austria: dormant (last tweet July ’16, total tweets 39)
Belgium: active (233)
Brazil: dormant (Sept ’16, 39)
Canada: active (733)
Czech Republic: active (492)
France: dormant (Apr ’16, 61)
Germany: dormant (July ’15, 76)
Hong Kong: active (1863)
Indonesia: active (574)
Italy: active (though, oddly, private account, total tweets 122)
Japan: active (804)
Osaka: dormant (Dec ’15, 77)
North Korea: dormant (May ’16, 13)
Poland: dormant (Oct ’16, 51)
Russia: active (2,665)
Ulan-Ude: dormant (Sept ’15, 1)
Singapore: active (5,335)
South Korea: active (3743)
Sweden: active (863)
Switzerland: dormant (Nov ’15, 10)
Thailand: active (160)
UN/New York: active (1018)
Vietnam: active (142)
United Kingdom: dormant ( July ’16, 226)
United States: active (1,414)
San Francisco: active (112)

And headquarters?

MFA in Mongolian: active (2,794)
MFA in English: dormant (Dec ’16, 2,293)

Some real surprises in this list, I find, particularly in some of the dormant accounts. No tweets in English from the MFA in eight months? Dormant accounts in some countries that are of importance to Mongolia: Germany, the UK?

Overall, not a very good situation, I would argue. 11 of 29 accounts are dormant. Unless there has been a deliberate decision by the Foreign Minister or other officials to forego digital diplomacy activities and those missions that are carrying on are driven in these activities by activist ambassadors or other staff.

Posted in Australia, Canada, Digital Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, Germany, Japan, Mongolia and ..., North Korea, Russia, South Korea, UN, United States | Tagged | Leave a comment

More Graduates of Archery 101

By Julian Dierkes & Mendee

Two years ago, Mendee posted some photos of world leaders visiting Mongolia and encountering archery.

In June, we finally had a chance to have the experience ourselves, thanks to Mendee’s childhood friend who is an archery sportscaster.

Mendee, aspiring archer

Carly T, a natural talent. Yeah, #MAAPPSisNOTdead!

The prof winds up…

…and he shoots



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Who Abstained in the Run-Off?

By Julian Dierkes

On the day before the second round of the presidential election, my biggest question was about the movement to encourage voters to submit blank ballots, essentialy voting none-of-the-above.

We have known since election night that just under 100,000 nationwide chose this option, or 8.2% of the valid votes. Note that this is different from and in addition to the 39.3% who did not vote.

Already, this number was a huge jump from the 1.5% that had submitted blank ballots in the 1st round of the election which is remarkable given that a real effort to inform voters about the blank ballot as an option did not begin until after the 1st round and was limited to a (social) media campaign. Clearly, this option was relevant enough to many voters to embrace it in a very short time span.

Just an Urban Phenomenon?

From the results offered by the GEC we at least have a regional breakdown which is displayed very nicely on the electoral map.

The short answer is, No!, there were abstentions in significant numbers across the country and the highest rates of abstention did not even come in Ulaanbaatar.

As the editor-in-chief noted, it’s Dundgovi that had the highest rate at 15.6%. That’s 1 out of 6 voters or so in the aimag.

Umungovi came in with the third-highest rate of abstention at 12.4%. Recall that this continued a trend against the national results in the Gobi region which had strongly supported Ganbaatar in the 1st round. Since Umnugovi is the province most affected by mining (disruptions as well as employment) it is hard not to think that this is the explanation for these results but it is harder to think how exactly the prominence of mining in the Gobi provinces led voters to choose Ganbaatar or the blank ballot.

Other rural areas that show results for the blank ballot that are above the national rate are Bulgan (9.6%), Dornod (9.4%), and Khentii (10.3%).

It is also true, however, that more urban voters chose the blank ballot as all the shares of the vote in the Ulaanbaatar districts as well as in Darkhan-Uul and Orkhon are above the nation 8.2% except for one small village, not in Gaul, but Bagakhangai which appears to be an enclave of very committed MPP voters, all 1,110 of them.

So yes, the blank ballot was an urban phenomenon, but not restricted to Ulaanbaatar alone.

High Support for One Candidate = Few Blank Ballots

Generally, a pattern emerges that in aimags/districts with very high support for one candidate, the number of blank ballots is low, except for Ulaanbaatar districts which overhwhelminigly supported Battulga, but also showed high rates of blank ballots.

Examples of the former are Bayan-Ulgii which voted 55.4% for Enkhbold with Uvs (56%), his highest support in an aimag, but with only 2.5% blank ballots (Uvs 4.8%). Among the aimags where Battulga had a strong showing, Bayankhongor stands out from all of them with support coming in at a whopping 64.6%, but only 1.9% of voters not marking their ballot.

Turnout and Blank Ballots

To some, a high turnout is an inherent good as it suggests more participation by voters in the democratic process. Following this argument, one might ask whether the introduction of a none-of-the-above option increases turnout or not. Obviously, we cannot know that from the shares of votes alone as we have no additional information about the voters who chose the blank ballots, but there are some suggestive comparisons to make.

At first glance, it does not seem that aimags/districts with high rates of blank ballots have a higher turnout. This does suggest that the blank voters may not have chosen between not voting at all and a blank ballot. If that had been the case, you would expect turnout to be lower in low blank ballot aimags/districts. Ignoring the aimags with lopsided results mentioned above, an aimag like Zavkhan with relatively low support for the blank ballot (4.2%) has a slightly-above turnout of 65.9%. Or Uvurkhangai with a below-average turnout of 57.3% and a rate of abstention of 6%.

The most noticeable figure here again is Umnugovi with its high support for the blank ballot, but a barely-above-quorum turnout of 50.9%.

What about Age?

Was it only young(er) voters who chose the blank ballot? We know that the GEC knows and they would also know a gender breakdown as that kind of demographic information is displayed in every polling station (though background cannot be linked to a specific vote to protext the secrecy of ballots). But we could be offered information about polling stations that have a particular age breakdown of voters and whether they have a higher or lower number of supporters for the blank ballot. While this would not be conclusive it would be as suggestive as some of the rates I’ve looked at in this post.


I suspect that the MPP will want to do away with the blank ballot in the election law as it is too obviously a tool that voters can deploy against two-party dominance.

But, the support for this option once again shows the potential for political mobilization around reform movements and in support of a change in the party landscape.

Anyone involved in such reform efforts (intra-party through leadership/generational chages, or extra-party through social movements or the foundation of third parties) will want to pay attention to some of the distribution of the blank ballots.

Posted in Gobi, Presidential 2017 | Tagged | Leave a comment

Reflection on Second Round [Video]

By Julian Dierkes

With the second round of the presidential election on July 7, the “election season” has come to an end and I summarize its result in this brief video. Obviously, our attention now turns to what the future under a DP president in cohibation with an MPP government will bring.

Posted in Elections, Governance, Party Politics, Politics, Presidential 2017, Video | Tagged | Leave a comment

Big Questions on Voting Day

By Julian Dierkes

The run-off in the 2017 presidential contest is upon us.

Since June 26 there has been no campaigning, but a number of developments with a likely impact on the run-off result have occurred.

1. White Ballot Movement

Some voters have organized online to educate other on the possibility of turning in a blank ballot to prevent a majority winner and thus force a re-set of the entire election. The biggest question today might thus be how many people will actually choose the non-of-the-above option. Has this campaign reached many voters? Will they shy away from the implied costs of re-running the election entirely? Will protest voters go to the blank ballot rather to one of the candidates?

2. Between Two Campaigns, Enkhbold Likely to Have Lost Ground

With no campaigning, other factors might play a role in voters’ thinking. The surfacing of video material showing Enkhbold practicing for the debate will not have improved his standing. The parliamentary machinations to produce massive cash handouts look like desperation in part because they will almost certainly incite the anger of the IMF. Voters seemed to see through the DP’s last-minute Erdenet Mine announcement last year, I suspect that they will not be swayed by the announcements of the last several days.

By contrast, it has been fairly quiet around Battulga.

3. More Discussions of Vote-Buying, Electoral Procedures

As has been the case for all six elections that I have paid close attention to, in the aftermath of the count, allegations of fraud are flying all over the place.

Hand (re)counts have borne out results.

Much discussion has focused on vote-buying (including my own perspective). But talk of the buying up of voting receipts seems to be a bluff of “enforcement” rather than an actual threat of tracing ballots or voters. Voting systems are obviously designed primarily around assuring voting secrecy so the safe-guards against the possibility of tracing a vote by the receipt or ballot number, or the time stamp are extensive. Voters might not retain their receipts in this round just to combat the perception of some kind of traceability. Unfortunately, this also precludes the “I voted!” photos that some Mongolians have been posting.



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Women Run Mongolian Elections, But They Don’t Run In Them

By Julian Dierkes

When you go to vote in Mongolia, look around in the polling station. Like so many (government) offices, the polling stations are run by women. Yes, every once in a while, there will be a man as a member of the local election commission, but rarely more than one man. And, making the gender dynamics in running the election even more striking, that single man in the polling station is probably the head of the local election commission.

My observation here is based on the roughly 100 polling stations that I have visited as an international election observer in five of the past six national elections (all since 2008, but the 2016 parliamentary election).

The same observation is true for campaign offices. Whether these are in an urban setting or a remote “propaganda ger”, or whether they are of the typical age composition (MPRP = 60 years old and above, DP with many younger campaign workers, MPP with a mix), campaign offices are generally staffed by women.

And, one more way in which Mongolian elections are women’s elections: women appear to be much more likely than men to vote. Since polling stations display the ration of female to male voters, my guess from the 16 polling stations that I visited on June 26 would be that the average ratio was close to 58:42. I hope that the GEC will release this ratio on a nationwide level after presidential voting concludes, but there is no reason I see that this observation is wildly off from national patterns.

So, put simply, women run Mongolian elections for predominantly women voters.

Female Candidates

But wait, something is not quite right here.

In the current presidential campaign, there is no female candidate. In 2013, health minister N Udval was the MPRP’s candidate, but she has been the only-ever female presidential candidate in democratic Mongolia.

And parliament? The 2016 brought a significant increase in the number of female MPs to 13 of the total 76 members, or 17%. Hm… That number was reached with a candidate quota of 20% women in place. It was also reached after four years of parliamentary sessions from 2012-2016 where a cross-party women’s caucus advanced some of the most important legislative agendas, like domestic violence laws, very effectively.

Coming Elections

Of course, politics is not the only area where women seem to be running much of the business, but continue to be excluded from leadership positions. Yet, women are also involved in selecting people to leadership positions, so I certainly hope that Mongolian parties will nominate more women for leadership positions in the future. There are many very capable women who are the backbone of Mongolian democracy in organizing elections. It is a shame that they do not play a more visible role in parliament and in government.

If the current presidential election has to start over because no candidate achieves 50% in the 2nd round, I personally hope that one of the three parties would turn to their leading women to nominate one of them.

Oh, and maybe consider thanking the women of your local election commission for all the hard and diligent work they contribute to the organizing of the election!

Posted in Elections, Gender, Presidential 2017, Social Issues | Tagged | Leave a comment

I Don’t Understand the Calculations Behind Electoral Fraud

By Julian Dierkes

I was shocked during election observation on June 26, again, how much of a contrast there is between the diligence and care with which polling stations and voting procedures are run, and the public perception of the legitimacy of voting due to the perception of wide-spread vote buying. Put bluntly, there does not seem much opportunity for large-scale fraud in the polling stations, yet many Mongolians suspect that elections are marred by vote-buying.

Combatting Fraud in Polling Stations

Over the past several rounds of national elections, the General Election Commission has deployed more and more technology to make elections more transparent and tamper-proof. I described some of these measures in my recent post about election observation.

All that does not mean that there is no fraud that is going on in polling stations. But such fraud is inherently difficult due to the scale of personnel needed to carry it off.

This is something that I have not quite understood about allegations of electoral fraud in polling stations.

Let’s assume for a moment that I am a criminally-inclined local campaign manager in an Ulaanbaatar riding. There are a number of ways in which I could seek to influence votes, for example by offering to “assist” elderly voters and having them accompanied to the polling station. Let’s say that I am reasonably successful with some such strategies in winning some votes, perhaps even some that would have gone to another party otherwise.

This is a massively expensive way to cheat! It requires an active cheater per vote won (like someone accompanying an elderly voter) and that cheater is then “burned” for that polling stations as s/he would easily be recognized as offering assistance a second time by the very vigilant party observers. I cannot imagine that anyone would really pursue this as a rational strategy.

The same could be said for the mobile polling (to allow the infirm) to vote which is often mentioned as a possible opportunity for fraud, or even some of the fears around submitting a blank ballot which could then be re-introduced with a mark (though the voting machines would not allow for this as that ballot would already have been counted, so this would only influence a hand count).

So, unless a party has very credible information that the result is so close that even some few votes would sway the result in their direction, it seems to me that it makes no sense to pursue such labour-intensive strategies at election fraud, especially when there are activities connected with intensified campaigning that might actually sway voters to vote a certain way for free.


In previous elections I have been quite frustrated by the oft-repeated allegations of electoral fraud that have never been backed up by real evidence.

Given how many videos of bribery have surfaced in this campaign – credible or not – and given the scale of personnel necessary to conduct electoral fraud of an extent that might actually sway the outcome, it seems odd to me that there is no more evidence of such fraud other than sporadic videos, etc. that we see.

On the other hand, I have become convinced that vote-buying is going on on some scale given how how often party observers talk about the vote-buying strategies of opposing parties in such detail as would only be known to someone who has likely thought about different vote-buying strategies themselves. Yes, not conclusive evidence at all, but I am more persuaded than I used to be that vote-buying and thus massive electoral fraud is happening.

This is especially frustrating to consider given the outcome of the 1st round of voting in the presidential election. As the MPP likely has much more significant resources (personnel and financing) to deploy than the MPRP, if any wide-spread vote-buying was happening, this likely “bought” the 2nd place finish for M Enkhbold over S Ganbaatar. I imagine that many Mongolian voters will see this similarly and will make their choice in the 2nd round with that consideration in mind.


Now, vote-buying. There seem to be so many different ways for how to pay voters in return for their vote. Obviously, this is an area where professionals keep devising ways on how to stay ahead of authorities on the one hand, but also of voters’ likely tendency to want to collect cash offered without actually having it determine their vote.

During this election, some of these schemes revolved around small loans at grocery stores, for example, where locals will surrender their national id card as collateral for small loans. Since the id card is necessary for voting, there are a number of possibilities that arise like paying off someone’s small loan just before the election which will enable them to vote and then expecting them to vote a certain way.

There has been a crack-down on attempts by voters to photograph their ballot before submitting it to offer proof that they’ve voted a certain way. In polling stations there are extensive signs now pointing out that cell phones cannot be brandished and in voting booths themselves there is a small basket provided where voters are meant to place their phone.

To the extent that rumours have specified prices, it seems that some votes were being bought for as little as ₮10,000 or just under €4. That seems like a very cheap price for a vote, but there are obviously many impoverished Mongolian voters for whom this might be a significant enough enticement to surrender their vote or to cast it for a candidate that they might have been leaning toward in any case.


It seems to me that the attempts to secure voting in the polling stations have been just about maxed out. Overall trust in the election will not be instilled with further changes to the polling station layout, technology or other elements. Of course, that is not an argument against fine-tuning procedures further, but it means that some other approach is necessary.

Is It a Problem?

Some might argue, of course, that vote-buying does not really have an impact on the outcome of Mongolian elections as the two large parties are likely to engage in it in equal measure. I find that fairly plausible as there is no obvious reason to believe that one party is more inclined or more able to buy votes than the other party.

However, if vote-buying by the two large parties actually does more or less cancel out, it still prevents smaller parties/candidates from receiving the share of votes that Mongolians might actually like to give them. Ganbaatar in the 1st round might have been an example of this as I have discussed above.


There are examples of other democracies where vote-buying has more or less disappeared despite its early presence. For example, historically vote-buying seems to have been common in the U.S., but does not seem to play a significant role now, despite the many shortcomings of U.S. electoral laws and proceedings otherwise.

Part of the solution to vote-buying is wealth, of course. As incomes rise, the expected rise in “prices” for a vote will also rise, ultimately making it infeasible to purchase votes on any meaningful scale.

Voter Education

The General Election Commission should seek to increase penalties for offering to buy a vote. It should also begin to plan for the parliamentary election in 2020 to roll out some kind of campaign against vote-buying explaining to voters that selling their vote is essentially giving up the right to choose.

Office as an Earnings Opportunity

A broader effort to rid Mongolian politics of money would also be important, of course. First and foremost in such an effort has to be the perception that political office represents an earnings opportunity. As long as officials purchase their office with the expectation to financially recoup this “investment”, there will be a temptation to similarly invest in electoral outcomes.

If this perception of office as an earnings opportunity could be combatted (along with a more serious fight against corruption), some of the loose money in campaigns would also dry up.

Political Culture

In the long run, a change in Mongolia’s political culture toward more substantive debate would also counter-act vote-buying. Currently, voters are choosing to vote largely on the basis of their perception of political leaders and patronage. At that point, might as well sell your vote, as it is unclear to what extent that vote actually choses a particular course of action over another. But if it were clearer to voters what it means to vote for one party or one candidate or another to actually allow them to participate in decisions about future developments of the country, they might be more interested in casting their vote one way or another rather than simply selling it to the highest bidder.


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The Mechanics of a Blank Ballot

By Julian Dierkes

First, the presidential election campaign was sleepy. Then it turned sleezy. Now, things got exciting because some Mongolians seem to have found a strategy to fight back against two-party dominance and the “offer” of a choice of candidates that left many voters dissatisfied. That strategy revolves around the blank ballot, i.e. Цагаан Сонголт.

It seems that the blank ballot somehow snuck into the last revision of the election law to give citizens an option to vote “none of the above” on a ballot where they did not like the choices offered. I imagine that the original intention was simply to let voters express their support for democracy and the electoral process by showing up at a polling station, but then choosing not to elect any of the candidates.

While it is unclear to me whether this was an oversight or deliberate, this blank ballot option suddenly has taken on a lot of significance because the blank ballot is counted as a valid vote, so that it is counted when the result is examined as to whether any candidate received 50% of the votes.

This was confusing to me at first, as there are two minimum 50% requirements. [See also my earlier post on this prior to the 1st round of voting]

First, there needs to be a quorum of 50% in each polling station. If that is not reached, citizens who have not voted are given another chance to vote on the weekend following the initial vote. In the determination of this quorum, blank ballots are certainly counted. That is not the interesting question, however.

Secondly, a candidate needs to secure 50% of the valid votes to be elected, whether that is from among two or three choices.

Think about the July 7 second round:

The voting machines will tabulate four different piles of votes:

  1. Kh Battulga
  2. M Enkhbold
  3. blank
  4. invalid.

Now, in determining whether anyone has secured 50%, piles 1, 2, and 3 are thrown together to determine the total number of valid votes. Does the leader have at least 50% of this total? You see what is going on here: a blank ballot makes it that much harder to reach 50%. Assume 100 votes. A candidate would have to receive 51 votes to win. But if 10 votes are blank, the candidate needs 51/90 of the ballots that have made a choice, i.e. 57%.

Back to our current election. Battulga received 38% of the vote in the 1st round, Enkhbold 30%. If the share of blank ballot rises from 1.5% in the first round to even 4 or 5% it will make it that much harder for a candidate to win 50%.

And the revolutionary clincher is: If no candidate wins the second round, the giant reset button is pushed to force an entirely new election that excludes the possibility of re-nominating the candidates of the first election!

Discussions of the blank ballot have been percolating for the past week. First-round presidential candidate S Ganbaatar seems to have endorsed the blank ballot. Hashtags have proliferated:

On July 7, two numbers will be exciting to watch:

  1. Which candidate will receive the most votes?
  2. Will that candidate reach 50% or will the blank ballots prevent that?


Posted in Governance, Presidential 2017, Social Movements | Tagged | 1 Comment

Ganbaatar Voters in 2nd Round

By Julian Dierkes

Ganbaatar received roughly 30% of the votes in the June 26 presidential election. One of the big questions about the July 7 2nd Round of voting is thus whom those Ganbaatar voters will support.

Enkhbayar Negotiations

To the extent that an official endorsement from the MPRP might be in play, that will most likely be determined by party chair Enkhbayar, not by Ganbaatar as the (former) candidate. [BUT SEE PS BELOW.]

If nothing else, frm president N Enkhbayar is a clever tactician, and seems to have become even more wily since being convicted for customs violations some years ago.

When there were no protests at all on the day after the election despite the sour taste that the trajectory of Ganbaatar’s initial lead over Enkhbold took Monday night, I suspected that various officials had prevailed on Enkhbayar to keep quiet, partly because of the lingering trauma from the July 1, 2008 riots and deaths. I also suspected that Enkhbayar would clearly look at this as an opportunity to negotiate, especially since the revisions to the criminal code that take effect July 1, seem to make him eligible for office again so that negotiations may be much more attractive to him than a lingering chance for a Ganbaatar presidency via protests might have been Tuesday morning.

And indeed, Mongolian media reported a lengthy meeting between Enhbayar and Enkhbold.

What might Enkhbayar be hoping for?

Should an endorsement by the MPRP put Enkhbold over the top, he’d have to resign from his parliamentary seat. That would be filled in a by-election that Enkhbayar could presumably run in. Obviously, there would be a DP and other party candidates, so the MPP would not be able to promise that seat, but it might be Enkhbayar’s best chance back into parliament.

More intriguing rumours suggest that Enkhbayar might be gunning for Prime Minister under a President Enkhbold. Now that would be a combination and a stunning comeback for the former president!

The third scenario is that if the blank ballot campaign succeeds at derailing the 2nd round of voting by holding both candidates to under 50% of the vote and causing a whole new election, Enkhbayar himself could presumably run for president in that election.

Electoral Calculations

But would Enkhbold (or Battulga) be well-advised to negotiate with Enkhbayar? The 30% of votes that Ganbaatar achieved are a tempting prize, of course. But it seems fairly doubtful that Enkhbayar would be able to “deliver” those votes to another candidate through an endorsement.

Recall that the level of party support for the MPRP seems to be somewhere around 7-8% judging by results in the 2013 and 2016 elections. So, more than two thirds of Ganbaatar’s 30% (or around 20% of the total vote) are swing or protest voters. Even if the loyal MPRP voters would follow Enhbayar’s endorsement, is there any likelihood that the remaining voters would?

If they are indeed protest voters, then they were protesting against DP-MPP dominance and are thus unlikely to support the DP or MPP candidate.

For those protest voters deciding to support either of the remaining candidates, it would be more likely to be Battulga to create a balance against MPP parliamentary dominance.

Or, such protest voters might choose to join the “white ballot” campaign to turn in blank ballots in the hopes of derailing the election with these candidates entirely. Or, they might simply stay home, depressing turnout which is still likely to be an advantage for Enkhbold, but an Enkhbayar endorsement or not probably has little to do with whether voters choose to participate or not.

It thus strikes me as pretty unlikely that large number of Ganbaatar voters would vote for Enkhbold calling the rationale behind negotiations with the MPP into question.

P.S.: Did Ganbaatar Just Endorse “None of the Above”?

In a press conference on June 30, Ganbaatar now seems to have resigned to his fate of (according to him) having been cheated out of the chance to compete in the second route voting. Instead, he seems to have endorsed the While Ballot (): “Саналын хуудсыг цагаан хэвээр нь уншуулахыг уриалж байна.”

If he continues to call for Mongolians to vote with a blank ballot, that is very likely to have a significant effect on the election as it will increase the number of blank ballots from 1.5% in the first round. Any increase in this number will make it more difficult for any candidate to receive 50% of valid votes.

Posted in Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, Presidential 2017 | Tagged | Leave a comment