The upcoming presidential election will be the first occasion for the DP’s claims to stand for clean government to be tested in an election campaign since the party’s predecessor dominated the 1996-2000 parliament.
This will be the first election that the four highest (constitutionally and de facto) offices in Mongolia are held by the DP: president, prime minister, chairman of parliament, mayor of Ulaanbaatar.
With these offices comes the power of appointments and executive direction for various state institutions.
As Mendee wrote in his argument doubting that a run-off is likely, current DP dominance is the third example of a such dominance by a party in democratic Mongolia after 1996 and 2000. For each case, the winning party went beyond the political transition of the government as prescribed under the 1992 Constitution and other relevant legislation.
Parties politicized government services by appointing party-affilliated officials beyond political posts in each ministry and agency, took over state-owned enterprises such as the airline, railway, mining companies, and increased their influence over the judiciary. This competition over the state bureaucracy, provincial and county offices, and state-owned enterprises were slowed down in 2004 and 2008 because of the relatively balanced election results (no single party became majority).
The DP as Underdog
Throughout its existence (and the history of its predecessors), the DP has portrayed itself as an antithesis to the MPRP/MPP’s entanglements with the state bureaucracy. These claims (election shenanigans, use of the bureaucracy for political purposes, etc.) have always had some credibility, simply because of the strength of the MPP, especially in the countryside and of the large number of MPP appointments within the state apparatus.
The DP has thus frequently portrayed itself as an underdog of sorts, fighting against entrenched MPP sympathies within the bureaucracy. Well, it is no longer an underdog, so let’s see how it behaves when it is in charge.
Of particular relevance in the upcoming presidential election will be the General Election Commission and the security apparatus.
In the 2012 parliamentary election commission the GEC played a prominent role, not only for its controversial blocking of the candidacy of now-convicted Enkhbayar, but also because it enforced some stricter innovations in the election law with some vigour and managed the election fairly effectively. Important areas of activity were the feasibility check on parties’ platforms, the approval of candidates, improvements to voter registration, the deployment of electronic vote counting machines, as well as the post-election procedures for re-counts and the certification of election victories. Some of these areas are less critical in a presidential campaign with only three candidates running and the greater simplicity of candidate approval, monitoring and the actual counting of votes in this set-up.
At the same time, there may be greater expectations of the GEC in terms of is supervision of the media which has come to be seen as increasingly politicized through the purchase or control of media outlets by parties and even individual politicians. Any attempts by the MPRP to bargain with the DP or MPP over the candidacy of N Udval may also attract the scrutiny of the GEC.
The Make-Up of the GEC
5 out of 9 members of the GEC are appointed by the Parliament, 2 by the President, and 2 by the Supreme Court. Only Chairman and Secretary of the GEC are permanent positions. Although the Law of GEC requires these posts to be filled by civil servants, political parties – especially when they are majority in parliament or hold the presidency – appoint their high-profile party members of the GEC.
The GEC includes two of such politicians at the moment: Ch Sodnomtseren, a former MP from the DP (2004-2008) and member of the DP-led cabinet (1999-2000), and B Bilegt, Chief of the Police Department (Mr. Bilegt was appointed when he was working as Chief of the National Security Council Office, which works for the President). The remaining members are public servants, without notable party affiliation.
The Security Apparatus
The Police Department and the General Intelligence Agency are two critical parts of the security apparatus for the election. Besides their main tasks, the Police Department maintains safety whereas the General Intelligence Agency ensures security of vote-counting systems and investigates election-related fraud and offenses under the crimes against the state institution statutes.
Logically, any political party and politicians have a strong desire to have influence over these institutions; therefore, both organizations need institutional safeguards from being used by the political parties and to maintain professional integrity.
However, the DP is overriding some of these institutional checks. For the first time, the DP-led government appointed an influential DP member as a head of the Police Department. Although it was an important effort to install civilian oversight over police organizations (just as the DP appointed the first civilian defence minister in 1996), the President awarded the brigadier general rank to this civilian, political party-affiliated chief of the Police.
This certainly undermine the principle of professional merit for police professionals while instigating a desire among police professionals to cultivate connections with political parties for promotion or simply to maintain their posts.
The DP-led government also appointed a party-affiliated official as the Chief of the General Intelligence Agency. Even though the Prime Minister appeared to accept the decision of the Constitutional Court when appointing the current chief for the Deputy Chief’s post, he later re-appointed his protege as the Chief of the General Intelligence Agency. The Prime Minister, first, neglected the relevant legislation to keep intelligence appointments out of the parliamentary elections, and second, downplayed the rulings of the Constitutional Court.
A DP Take-Over?
Some might see the decisions on appointments to the GEC and to posts overseeing the security apparatus as the typical efforts of a party to assert control. This assertion of control by the DP would undoubtedly continue if Elbegdorj is re-elected to a second term. The question will be what use the DP will put this control to? Will it be for (personal) enrichment (or awards for party supporters)? Will it be for the manipulation of voters’ opportunities to express their views? Will it be as a lingering threat to political opposition? Or, will the DP give these institutions the independence and non-political character that would lend credibility to their claims of the mantle of clean governance.