In meetings with party officials from the DP and MPP, I heard – not surprisingly – very different perspectives on the election.
On the one hand, voters were described as interested in specifics of platform proposals, on the other hand they were described as essentially making a strategic calculation about whether they want to support an incumbent or support the opposition in order to curtail the power of the DP. From the latter perspective, there’s still a significant amount of movement possible in the electorate.
If voters are making strategic calculations, perhaps support for Udval will decline at the last minute, as MPRP supporters fall in behind Bat-Erdene to oppose the DP. Likewise, some voters who see Elbegdorj as an incumbent juggernaut might shift to Bat-Erdene to temper DP dominance.
Generally, the campaign was seen as somewhat lacklustre. The only reason offered in conversations is “election fatigue”, but I couldn’t help myself and had to counter that we didn’t see much evidence of such fatigue in the campaign for the parliamentary election last year.
I asked at the MPP why I was unable to find a single Bat-Erdene billboards in the very centre of Ulaanbaatar to take an election snapshot and was offered a fairly generic answer pointing to a lack of funding, a requirement for pre-commitment to secure billboards, and a declining belief in the efficacy of billboards. Nevertheless, not a single one?
Views from Twitter Followers
At a “tweet-up” with some of my Twitter followers in Ulaanbaatar yesterday the conversation also naturally turned to the election.
I was virtually alone in still thinking that a run-off is fairly likely.
Others expressed surprise and disappointment in the lack of support Udval has received from other women in politics who have not really acknowledged the significance and symbolic importance of the first female presidential candidacy. For many this significance is tempered by the perception of Udval as very little more than a stand-in for Enkhbayar.
There seemed to be a near-consensus on the likelihood of an Elbegdorj win, though there was some discussion on the impact that turnout would have on the result, particularly whether the DP and MPP would be able to motivate their supporters to cast their votes when the campaign has been so quiet and the result seems to be pre-determined. The biggest caveat on these views is the TV debate that is scheduled for the evening of Monday, June 24, the very last hours of the campaign. There were some views that Elbegdorj has had a tendency towards emotional responses to criticisms in the past that might hurt him in a debate like this, but that Bat-Erdene also needs to urgently demonstrate presidential stature to overcome perceptions of a thin political CV. I learned about a joke that is circulating that compares Bat-Erdene and Elbegdorj in terms of their focus at important moments in Mongolia’s democratic history and notes poignantly that Bat-Erdene was mainly engaged in his wrestling rivalry with Munkh-Erdene at times when Elbegdorj was leading a democratic revolution or serving as prime minister.
Yesterday I already noted that the seeming consensus on an Elbegdorj victory makes me somewhat suspicious. There is no real evidence in the form of polling or other research to conclude anything about relative vote shares, of course, even though many people (including myself) bandy about percentages as if we knew something concrete.
What are some scenarios that might see Elbegdorj loosing? There seems to be agreement that the MPP still is significantly stronger in many parts of the countryside. While the DP is no longer shout out of the country vote, there seems to be a continuing disparity of levels of support. This difference means that Elbegdorj has to win big in Ulaanbaatar but it is in the city where turnout might be the most likely to dip further from previous elections because of continuing voter registration issues, seasonal migrations, and a more blasé attitude to democracy among the young.
If a run-off does become necessary, then Elebgdorj is seen at a distinct disadvantage. Voting fatigue and proximity to Naadam may imply that only the most committed voters will participate and here Bat-Erdene might have an advantage as he gathers in Udval supporters.
As mentioned above, the TV debate could still throw a wrench in Elbegdorj’s re-election as well.
Given that any discussion about the election outcomes is speculative, it still does seem likely that Elbegdorj will be re-elected, but there are some scenarios that call that into question that are at least plausible.