[This post was researched and co-written by Brian White at The Mongolist blog.]
Ten days before the election, President Ts Elbegdorj is considered the clear favourite. In the absence of further polls, this appears primarily based on the conventional wisdom that incumbents enjoy an advantage over challengers. In the case of the Mongolian presidency, it is difficult to say whether there is truly an “incumbency effect” given how few races there have been in the democratic era.
N Bagabandi is the only incumbent to win two elected terms, but there have only been five elections since 1993. P Ochirbat served two terms, but one was an appointed term after the dissolution of the socialist government and the other through popular election under the current constitution. He lost his bid for a second elected term (third term overall) to Bagabandi. N Enkhbayar won his election in 2005 running against non-incumbents. Elbegdorj then played the spoiler defeating President Enkhbayar in 2009.
Whether there is any truth to the wisdom regarding incumbents in Mongolia, it does makes intuitive sense in the absence of other data. Elbegdorj already holds the office and has a proven track record, so voters know what they’re getting. He just has to show he has earned another term. His challengers, on the other hand, have to not only prove that they deserve a chance at the position but also that they have the experience and skills to do better than him.
Five Broad Areas of Policy-Making
Elbegdorj’s platform is divided into five board policy areas: 1. rule of law, 2. local participation in solutions, 3. support for producers, 4. environmentally friendly development, and 5. internationally respect for Mongolia. Unlike his challengers’ platforms which take a more negative approach to framing issues, the president’s tone is positive and assertive focusing on areas of past success and future opportunities for improvement. Of course, as incumbent he is afforded the luxury of pointing to past successes to promote his qualifications, but he also must put a positive spin on his record in order to effectively argue that he deserves another term.
Rule of Law
“Rule of law” is an area the president has promoted in the past, and it is one area where he has constitutional authority to directly implement change. He gives it extensive treatment in his platform with 12 policy points under this section focusing on judicial reforms and fighting corruption. The president seems to envision establishing a legal culture and environment in the country that will elevate Mongolia to international democratic standards. The other candidates also discuss some of the same policy issues in this area such as promoting an independent judiciary or tackling corruption, but they are not bundled together as tightly as in the president’s platform.
The “local participation in governance” section includes proposals to devolve budget management further to local jurisdictions and to provide special administrative status to large towns and provincial capitals. Udval also touches on this area, but she only promotes the direct election of provincial and city governors.
Support for Producers
Under the “support for producers” section, he not only promotes government getting out of the way of “producers” but also specific policy reforms that will encourage small and medium-sized business growth. For example, he suggests strictly limiting state budget expenditures to domestic suppliers of goods or services whenever and wherever possible. Bat-Erdene also describes policies to support domestic production, but he focuses more on rural industries. Elbegdorj also includes policy ideas about managing the country’s mineral resources, but he does not mention Oyu Tolgoi, Tavan Tolgoi, or other strategic deposits by name, something that both his challengers do. The over all emphasis in this section is on creating a fair and competitive environment for investment and business in all industries.
Environmentally Friendly Development
The “environmentally friendly development” section includes standard ideas about protecting the countries natural resources. There are also some unique policy suggestions around refining laws to protect the environment from extremely hazardous activities such as handling chemicals or toxic waste. Moreover, he goes out of his way to state flatly that Mongolia shall not become a dump for nuclear or other waste.
The last area of the president’s platform, like the the rule of law section, is a place the president has a direct ability to actively influence policy. This section includes 14 policy points with several points focusing on Mongolia as a diplomatically active member of the international community. The president seems keen to promote his international prestige and his success as head of state. However, his policies in general are not significantly different from his challengers in several areas. Just like his challengers he supports a continuation of the country’s foreign policy stance vis-a-vis Russia, China, and “third neighbours,” programs aimed at reducing alcoholism, and engaging Mongolian ex-pats in other countries to encourage them to contribute to the country’s development.
The look of Elbegdorj’s campaign website harkens back to his 2009 campaign which in itself was clearly inspired by the 2008 campaign by President Obama in the U.S. The most obvious marker here is the image of Elbegdorj himself here which is done in a style resembling that of the now iconic poster of President Obama.
Other than some cartoons that are interspersed into the listing of campaign foci, the webpage is quite text-heavy and very calm in its presentation, i.e. there are no moving parts or a twitter feed for example.
Elbegdorj’s campaign is clearly the campaign of an incumbent. Relying on his record as president that is not marred by any particular scandals, crises or major mistakes, Elbegdorj highlights areas in his election platform where he can point to his record, but also legitimately claim to have a further program. With these focus areas, he sticks closer to the areas where the president actually has some influence and power (judiciary, foreign policy) or where he has had concrete achievements (the establishment of citizens’ halls for local participation).