The importance of the Ulaanbaatar City Council election was never as high as this year’s. This is apparent from the extent of election campaigns, media coverage, and the number of parties and candidates.
The changes in the election procedures, namely the organization of the City Council election concurrently with the Ikh Khural election and the introduction of the party-list system, have important implications.
The Democratic Party and other opposition parties have never been a strong voice in the City Council. The same is true for the aimag and district councils. The Mongolian People’s Party has held a majority in the City Council during the past twenty years. Nine of the current 45 members of the City Council are from the DP and the remaining from the MPP.
Recent public opinion polls indicate a strong likelihood that the DP will gain more seats in the Ikh Khural than other political parties. The DP is striving to gain much from this opportunity and win the City Council Election. E. Bat-Uul’s decision to lead the DP in the City Council Election promises more votes for the DP. Bat-Uul who was elected from Selenge province in the 2008 Ikh Khural election has broad support among the electorate and the DP members. He competed for the nomination for the the Presidential Election from the DP in 2009. Recent polls show that he is among the top ten politicians in Mongolia.
More importantly, Bat-Uul’s ideas and activities on the land rights seems to be more appealing to the public and ger district settlers in particular. He has been a strong opponent of the policy to move ger district settlers into apartment buildings by either exchanging their land by rooms in those apartment buildings or buying their land directly. The DP’s election campaign for the City Council is mainly framed by Bat-Uul’s idea that building infrastructure (water and plumbing infrastructure etc.) for ger district settlers to allow them to build their own houses and apartments is a better way to deal with the problems of air pollution and overcrowding.
A ‘leaked’ survey done by the MPP’s research institute in 2011 ranked the most urgent problems in Ulaanbaatar:
Smoke, air pollution 58.0
Drinking, alcoholism 51.7
Poverty, street people 32.9
Crime, burglary 29.1
Building and fixing new roads 22.4
Street lighting, city planning 21.2
Transportation deficiency 17.6
Bureaucracy in the district and sub-district administration 17.2
D Munkhbayar, the mayor of Ulaanbaatar city and the chairman of the MPP of Ulaanbaatar city, is leading the MPP in the City Council Election. The MPP seems to be trying to send a message to the lectorate that Munkhbayar is an experienced manager who can handle the complex urban problems.
Last week the Mongolian National Broadcasting (the official, state-funded television channel) organized a debate among the political parties in the City Council election. It was the only official televised debate during this election campaign (either of the Ikh Khural and the City Council). Only 2 minutes were given the participants to answer to each question from the organizers. So it was not truly a debate. The impression that I had from the presentations and answers of the party leaders during the debate was that there were so much overlap among their ideas and promises and so little to draw a distinction except Bat-Uul’s repeated message on the infrastructure for ger districts. An interesting message that some party leaders like Gankhuu from the CWGP was that Ulaanbaatar city is their ‘local homeland’. Like Bat-Uul, Gankhuu’s parents are those people who settled in Ulaanbaatar in the 1950s or earlier.
Being organized concurrently with the Ikh khural Election, the City Council Election is more likely to have a higher voter turnout this year than the previous elections. Electoral support for the MPP has been strong among the elderly and their relatively high levels of participation in the local council elections seemed to be have a crucial role in the MPP’s wins. The DP seems to have relatively broader support among young people, but they seem to have little interest in the local elections. The CWGP seems to have the same problem. So, these parties may gain more from a higher voter turnout.