This is an extended version of Asia Pacific Memo #168 “Women Part of Major Turnover in Mongolian Parliament”
A trip to the Mongolian countryside quickly produces the impression that women do all the work, waking at dawn to make breakfast for their husband, and waiting for him to lay down before finally retiring themselves. Yet, somehow men seem to remain “in charge”, at least as nominal figureheads; not just in the ger, but also in the political arena. This year the new election law required 20% of candidates in the Mongolian parliamentary elections be women. These affirmative-action-like quota requirements are nothing new and have been implemented at various percentages in different jurisdictions.
The current Parliament, elected without a quota even though this had been initially enacted in 2008, has only three women members our of a total of 76: D Arvin (MPP), S Oyun (CWGP), and D Oyunkhorol (MPP). Together they make up less than 4% of the Parliament.
The election law of 2012 that was passed in anticipation of the election on June 28 contained many new regulations, including the introduction of proportional representation for 28 or the 76 seats. It also specified that a minimum of 20% of the candidates nominated and approved as candidates would have to be women. There is no quota on women parliamentarians, just on the candidates for seats in parliament.
So, what was the impact of this quota on the number of MPs? Looking at the preliminary results for this year’s election, seven women have been elected directly in the 48 first-past-the-post contests: D Oyunkhorol (MPP), Ts Oyungerel (DP), G Uyanga (MPRP), S Odontuya (DP), and Erdenechimeg (DP). Another four have been elected based on proportional representation: R Burmaa (DP), M Batchimeg (DP), Bayanselenge (MPRP), and S Oyun (CWGP). This means that a total of 9 women, or about 12% of the new parliament will be women. If D Arvin (DP) wins the run-off in Bayanzurkh this would mean 10 females MPs
This election proved to be especially challenging for incumbents with the new quotas for women and a new system of proportional representation. In fact, of the five women directly elected, four are newcomers to Parliament, and three of the proportional representatives are also about to enter Parliament for the first time. Additionally, looking at both male and female candidates, we can see that roughly half of the new Parliament will be entering for the first time. This “new blood” has potentially major implications in a country where most people complain that the same politicians are always just circling through office.
Women politicians clearly have made some important gains. Since few parties exceeded the 20% women quota by much, women were elected about as often as you would expect given their inclusion as candidates. However, there is some variability on this among the parties. In scanning the party lists of candidates nominated to be elected via proportional representation, the MPP notably put almost all their women candidates towards the bottom of this list, ensuring that male candidates had a much higher chance of being elected, while women would only have been added had the MPP won in a landslide. Accordingly, only one of the 10 female MPs will be from the MPP, with the possibility of one more following an up-coming run-off election. By contrast, five women will be representing the DP in the Ikh Khural.
With the DP coming into the parliament with most seats and thus likely to be involved in forming a government, the composition of cabinet and assignments to chair standing committees will be the next test of women’s inclusion in political decision-making.
Of the few women in Mongolian politics, several stand out as being especially well-known and respected. One such example is S. Oyun (CWGP). Oyun is the sister of one of the most famous supporters of democracy in the early 1990s – Zorig – whose 1998 murder shocked the nation. Her consistent support of the free market, human rights, and anti-corruption initiatives puts her in a seat of moral authority and trustworthiness that few other Mongolian politicians can command. Oyungerel (DP, seen campaigning in June 2012 on the left) is also well known for her support of human rights and international outlook. She even managed to command more votes than MP L Bold (DP) who was considered a public favourite from early on.
Why have a quota in the first place? One local female politician (see her campaign ad balloon on the right) that we spoke with during our observation of the campaign leading up to the Ulaanbaatar city election that was held in parallel to the parliamentary elections, expressed her opinion that women should “make it on their own”. On one hand, this is the classic response to such affirmative action steps; on the other hand, this is also indicative of a larger wish that quotas were not necessary.
Still, perhaps they will be necessary for some more years until voters can see for themselves the advantages of women politicians. Feminist groups in Mongolia have pointed to lower instances of corruption and caring, maternal instincts as advantages for the country should more women be in politics. Some of us might be tired of such stereotypes, yet what really matters is whether these slogans speak to the Mongolian voter. With more women elected this year, perhaps it is safe to say that we are on the right path to a more equal representation of women among the visible leadership of Mongolia even when many suspect that much of the management of the country is already performed by women.