10 days ago before I arrived in Mongolia, I wrote about some of the things I was keeping an eye on in the election. One of the issues I am paying attention to is whether corruption has become more of a topic for public discussions, rather than a subject of conspiracy theories and widely shared assumptions.
The short answer from the past two days of chasing after campaign events and visiting campaign offices is: no, corruption has not become a major topic for voters’ attention.
The message on this has been clearest at the local level. Corruption – as an issue of election-related political concern – is clearly trumped by “more immediate” livelihood concerns like property rights, pollution, and unemployment.
One of the aspects of the current election that is new is that it is being held concurrently with the Ulaanbaatar city council elections. In this election, there are 45 seats up for grabs, 30 through a first-past-the-post election in ridings, 15 through proportional representation akin to the party lists for the national election.
My understanding is that the six national ridings for Ulaanbaatar are subdivided five times each to yield 30 city-wide ridings.
The mayor is a member of and elected by the city council. Currently, this is Munkhbayar of the MPP. On the DP side, Bat-Uul, long-time democracy activist and DP leader, is the most prominent candidate.
We’ve visited a small number of city election campaign managers and election offices that form the basis for my impressions here.
In all of these visits, corruption was not mentioned as a top concern for voters. City election candidates obviously have much more direct contact with (potential) voters than candidates running for parliament and were thus a good source for answers about questions regarding the issues raised by voters.
Concrete and often very local topics clearly dominate these discussions and corruption only comes up in this context in regards to very specific issues, especially land rights. This is true even for the Civil Will – Green Party which might have stood to gain the most from a public focus on corruption as I had speculated previously. CWGP officials emphasize that anti-corruption was still an important or even central part of their agenda, but that this did not resonate with voters who are overwhelmingly concerned with seemingly more immediate issues.
Basic urban infrastructure, sewage, drinking water, electricity, were mentioned frequently as was garbage pick-up, the high number of stray dogs, and similar, quasi-environmental concerns.
At the national level, by contrast, corruption is mentioned as an issue, especially by the DP that continues to portray itself as representing politics of a different, including a non-corrupt kind.
If corruption does not emerge as a major issue and factor in this election, what does that mean? It reduces my expectations for success of the Civil Will – Green Party significantly. Some interlocutors here in Ulaanbaatar have expressed a fear that CWGP might not clear the 5% hurdle in the proportional representation voting (which would suggest that the nearly universally admired Oyun would loose her seat), most likely suggesting that they would lose their presence in the Ikh Khural entirely. I still think that the party will make it into parliament, but probably with fewer seats than I might have initially expected.
By contrast a lack of a focus on corruption might boost the protest vote to the MPRP.