2012 local elections: pre-election observation and analysis

A record high over 19,000 candidates will run for the upcoming local elections slated for November 21 (A festival of democracy!). Seven political parties, two coalitions, and 893 independents will compete for the 8108 seats of Citizens’ Representative Khurals of aimags (provinces, 745 seats) and soums (counties, 7068 seats) and districts of Ulaanbaatar (295 seats). Two weeks of election campaigning have ended and Mongolians will vote for their local representatives tomorrow.

Voter turnout for the parliamentary election in June 2012 hit a record low of 65%, declining nearly 10% from the previous election. Voter turnout for local elections has been lower than parliamentary elections and it was 66% in 2008. Considering the low turnout in June we may see a number of run-off elections in Ulaanbaatar where voter turnout has been significantly lower than provinces. The festival needs more visitors and judges.

This year’s election differs from previous elections in several ways.

First, one reason of why the local elections attract much attention from political parties and independent candidates might be the new budget law. The law provides more opportunities for local governments to accumulate and spend local revenues as an effort to diffuse over-centralization. From next year, local governors, for example, will have more authority on local budget planning and spending.

Second, the new local election law was adopted by parliament. It introduced a number of important changes and innovations. Like the new parliamentary election system, the local elections will be organized under a mixed electoral system. One third of the members of the Citizens’ Representatives Khurals will be nominated from the political party list while the remaining two third will be elected through the majoritarian system. A similar mixed electoral system was used in the 1996 local elections, but a majoritarian system had been applied since 2000. This new system will likely to allow smaller political parties to have more representation than a majoritarian electoral system. Moreover, the local elections will use electronic counting, new personal identification cards, and biometrics to identify and check registered voters. In addition, political parties were required to follow a 30% gender quota when they nominated their candidates. More women are expected to enter local Khurals and acquire local government posts.

The result of the 2012 parliamentary election left the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Mongolian People’s Party in a political situation in which either needs big win in local elections. The DP needs to have local institutional channels that would allow smooth and effective policy implementation. One obstacle of the DP’s policy effectiveness during 1996-2000 when the party led the government could be that the MPP controlled much of the local government. For individual members of parliaments it is also necessary to have local institutional bases via inserting own representations in local government institutions.

The opposition Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) faces much tougher test at the local elections. Since the inception of local elections in 1992, the MPP has been the majority party in most provinces and districts of Ulaanbaatar. In particular, since 2000 when the MPP became the absolute majority in parliament it could significantly cement its local dominance. Of 693 seats of Citizens’ Representatives Khurals of provinces and Ulaanbaatar the MPP won 569 seats or 82% of all seats in 2000. Since then the MPP has maintained its dominance (Table 1). Although the MPP’s number of seats in the Citizens’ Representatives Khurals decreased in 2004 (64%) and 2008 (62%), it still controlled the majority of provinces and Ulaanbaatar. Of 21 provinces, the MPP was the majority party in 17 provinces (See, Table 2). Moreover, the MPP controlled all districts (duureg) and satellite cities of Ulaanbaatar except the Khan-Uul district where the DP constituted the majority.

However, the MPP’s strength and confidence in local elections has ebbed since the election of the City Council or the Ulaanbaatar city’s Citizens’ Representatives Khural in June 2012, which was held simultaneously with the parliamentary election. The MPP had continuously dominated the City Council. Most recently, the MPP held 36 seats of the City Council’s 45 seats in the period between 2008 and 2012. So, it was a devastating result for the MPP to lose the control over the City Council this year. The DP won big in Ulaanbaatar in June in both the parliamentary and City Council’s elections. The DP’s successful campaign led by its preeminent leader Erdeniin Bat-Uul earned them 26 seats, enabling the DP to govern the Ulaanbaatar city the first time. Except two run-off elections in which at least one MPP candidate will be elected to parliament, the MPP has not won a seat in parliament from Ulaanbaatar.

The new local election law requires that the elections should be held on Wednesday of the fourth week of November. Unlike previous local elections that held in the early-October, the new law has provided a longer period or broader opportunity for the ruling party and coalition to formulate their policy and implement concrete programs that would gain them public support. During the last three months the new governor of Ulaanbaatar city E.Bat-Uul and his administration gained much support for their quick action to tackle with traffic jams, to improve public transportation, and to suspend illegal construction works and land ownership. Moreover, Prime Minister Norovyn Altankhuyag’s new initiative to reduce the price of coal for Ulaanbaatar’s ger district residents has seemed to be widely appreciated, adding strength to the DP’s campaign in the city. Thus, the MPP will have tough test in Ulaanbaatar and might lose their dominance in most districts.

It seems that the MPP has expended much effort in provinces and soums (districts). In the system of the MPP, the work of local party leaders or the governors of aimags have often been a step towards preparing to run in parliamentary elections. In provinces and soums, the party has had a well-functioning network of election mobilization comprising a large number of local government officials, local business connections, and party members. The vertical relations between the central and local units of the MPP are well institutionalized and there have been little local resistance to the elites at the top. A number of leading MPP members moved from Ulaanbaatar to provinces like Umnugovi to run for the local elections.

However, the MPP has some challenges there, as well. First, like the last parliamentary election in June, the Mongolian-People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) will be an annoying contender and will likely to attract some voters from the MPP. Even though the MPRP is in the coalition government, the party runs for the local elections independently. But in some electoral districts the MPRP is in coalition with the Mongolian National Democratic Party (MNDP) or with the Civil-Will and Green Party (CWGP). Second, over ten aimag governors who are all MPP members have been investigated by the Independent Agency against Corruption during the last couple of years, apparently humiliating the public image of their party. Third, the MPP did not propose an alternative, catching manifesto or policy priorities. The party’s electoral campaign largely focused on the critique of the ruling coalition, sending a message that the MPP will constrain and resist the unlimited power of the rulers. This might not be a good strategy and would not bring more seats for the party. According social media sources, there have already been open discussions within the party about a looming crisis of leadership and policy innovations in the party. If the MPP loses in the local elections it may prompt to a major intra-party reform or reshuffle in the party.

Meanwhile, the DP insists on the effective implementation of the coalition government’s program and asks the electorate to help them to increase their representation in local governments. While the DP may win big in Ulaanbaatar, it will likely to be difficult for them to have a massive victory in provinces. The defeat in the local elections would give the DP much-needed institutional infrastructure that could help the government policy to be implemented smoothly. It is also an opportunity to strengthen local party organizations, which is same for other smaller parties, as well.

See posts earlier this year for analysis of the June parliamentary election.

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11 Responses to 2012 local elections: pre-election observation and analysis

  1. enkhtsetseg says:

    The main reason why the MPP lost the local election in UB to DP, is that the local elections were held on the same day with the Ih hural election. That is why the MPP fought so hard not to hold the local elections with the UIH election on the same day nationwide and finally reached consensus to hold the local election in provinces later and agreed to let the UB local elections happen on the same with the UIH election.

    • Saying that the concurrent elections in UB and for the Ikh Khural were “the main reason why the MPP lost” is a bit simplistic, I think.

      Yes, UB elections held in conjunction with the parliamentary election may have helped DP, but only because it ran a “renew government” campaign, I think. Also, Bat-Uul obviously a strong candidate in UB elections. And, finally, the MPP’s role in city politics was obviously not appreciated by voters, judging by the strong DP win in UB.

  2. D.Byambajav says:

    An important aspect of the concurrent elections in UB and for the Ikh Khural is that, as I wrote in my previous post (http://blogs.ubc.ca/mongolia/2012/significance-of-ulaanbaatar-city-election/), because it was organized concurrently with the Ikh khural Election, the City Council Election would likely to have more participation from young people who seem to had little interest in local elections, but had positive views towards the DP.

  3. Brian White says:

    Very interesting post and excellent description of the political situation. It is often stated that younger voters are inclined to vote DP, UB is demographically younger than rural areas, and therefore the DP does better in UB than in the countryside. I have heard this many times and read it many places, but I can’t think of when I have seen survey data to support that claim. It also can be contradicted by recent election results in which MPRP (now MPP) dominated UB districts (2000), DP has won important rural seats (2004, 2008, and 2012), and by the fact the DP has routinely failed to garner a majority of the vote even though “young people” are the largest demographic in the country. I bring this up because it would seem to me as this post mentions the MPP’s once (maybe still) dominant position in rural areas was its reach not the demographics of those areas. The MPP is like Khan Bank, they have branches in every soum. As Barack Obama has proven twice in the US, a good ground game can make all the difference. I am not sure if DP has ever been able to have that kind of local presence in all rural districts, and this is probably a bigger factor than old vs. young. Local elections are very intimate in rural areas. Candidates are voters’ friends and neighbors–not distant political celebrities. If a party fails election after election to field strong local candidates and to make their presence known during non-election periods, I am not sure how it could ever expect to win. But, then, I am just speculating here, too. I am curious to know if there is survey data that would support the young vs. old explanation.

  4. enkhtsetseg says:

    Everybody ran a “renew government” “things will be better” campaign; really there was not much difference. True Bat-uul was a formidable contender, however, it is doubtful he would have fared well without the votes of young voters who generally favor DP over MPP.

  5. batjargal says:

    i see that its getting more meaningful, i mean the local election, however, still there is nothing much difference between their promising, just will see

  6. enkhtsetseg says:

    My observation is that voters do not behave exactly the same in the national and local elections. The 2000 election Brian White mentioned was a national UH election. In the 1996 election that preceded, the DP coalition had won 50 seat and MPRP 25 seats. One seat went to Dashbalbar. During the four years they had between 1996-2000 the DP could get nothing through the Parliament without also getting some support from the MPRP members, which was next to impossible for the most part. In 2000, voters were deeply dissatisfied with DP’s performance, hence a landslide victory for MPRP in the 2000 national election. Similar observations can be made about the performance of MPRP during 2000-2004, which led to a more balanced representations of two parties in the parliament in the 2004 election. So Brian is right, it is not all about demographics, although it would be a mistake to say that demographics do not matter. I wonder if anyone has done any serious analysis on this.

  7. Amy says:

    The MPRP-CWGP coalition strikes me as odd. I’m not sure what’s in it electorally for the MPRP or what’s in it image-wise for the CWGP. Or maybe that’s the reason…? Maybe the MPRP is hoping to benefit from the CWGP’s clean image and the CWGP from the MPRP’s popularity in rural areas….Any ideas?

    • D.Byambajav says:

      I think your explanation is very convincing. One thing is that these are only coalitions in some provinces or soums and are decided by local party branches, but not by the party headquarters.

  8. D.Byambajav says:

    I have two survey reports that includes a cross-tabulation of political party preferences and age groups. The first, if you remember a “leaked” survey carried out by the MPP’s polling agency “Niigmiin Ardchillyn Khureelen” or former “Prognoz” center was shared on Internet in November 2012. This survey included all nine districts of Ulaanbaatar. The sample size a relatively large: 1800. The analysis and recommendations were very convincing to me. I can’t find the survey online now, but I have a copy of it. I will copy here the results of two questions. You will see some obvious differences though some statistical analysis might be good. First question is:
    “Will you participate and vote in the upcoming elections?”

    I will vote I will decide later I will not vote
    18-20 49.1 32.0 18.9
    21-25 47.8 33.2 18.9
    26-30 49.4 27.3 23.0
    31-35 53.5 22.4 24.1
    36-40 52.5 27.5 20.0
    41-45 56.0 33.3 10.6
    46-50 50.4 28.7 20.9
    51-55 53.3 26.7 20.0
    56-60 44.7 36.2 19.1
    61 and above 50.9 28.3 20.8

    Next question is: “For what political party will you vote if elections will be held tomorrow?”

    MPP DP MPRP
    18-20 15.9 22.3 10.2
    21-25 11.9 14.9 4.0
    26-30 10.6 19.5 6.4
    31-35 13.0 14.8 2.6
    36-40 11.3 16.4 4.4
    41-45 14.9 17.7 6.4
    46-50 14.2 11.5 10.6
    51-55 18.0 19.1 9.0
    56-60 25.0 14.6 14.6
    61 and above 32.7 9.6 13.5

    I think this survey supports some extent the young vs. old explanation.

    Then there is a summary of Sant Maral’s surveys done by Sumati himself in his co-book “Voters’ voices” co-authored with W.Prohl in 2007. Sumati combined his surveys carried out from 1995 to 2006. I copy here part of the Table 239 in his book.

    Age structure of Supporters of different political parties
    Under 30 30 to 49 50 or more Total
    MPP (former MPRP) 34.6 43.9 21.4 100
    DP and predecessors 41.5 47.9 10.5 100

    This seems to also support the generational difference argument to some extent though I can’t have raw data on actual age.

    What do you think about this? Certainly, it is a much discussed, but little examined topic. Unfortunately, in cross-national survey datasets that I have there are only questions about presidential elections. I will look at them, too.

    • Brian White says:

      Thanks for posting this. It is interesting. Although, if you assume MPP and MPRP voters are similar and both parties have cross over appeal to those voters, sort of like libertarians and Republicans in the US, then DP’s advantage with youth is erased for the 18-25 cohorts and is mixed for other cohorts. Maybe this cross-over assumption is wrong, but if not, then this survey data doesn’t really support the contention that DP appeals more to young voters. I wonder if it is more that DP supporters are on average younger, and this observation is fallaciously substituted with the preferences of young voters as a whole? I guess the search for answers continues.

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