Mendee has posted some very good reasons why he thinks a run-off following the June 26 presidential election is unlikely. At least until we see another Sant Maral poll (I’m hoping there will be one more before the June 19 ban on further polling) that indicates tendencies and directions about voter preferences, I will stick with my earlier expectation (not prediction) of a run-off.
What Triggers a Run-Off?
There are actually two conditions under which additional voting is triggered, one that is focused on participation by electoral district, one that is focused on the vote share garnered by the winning candidate.
1. If fewer than 50% of the eligible voters in a given electoral district vote, there will be additional voting one week after the initial vote (ie July 3). [Article 61.7, Law on the Presidential Election of Mongolia] No matter whom voters have voted for in a given district (= roughly 800 to 3,500 voters), 50% of them have to cast a vote to validate that district’s result.
2. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes cast in the entire country, a run-off between the top two candidates will be held two weeks after the initial vote, i.e. July 10. [Article 62, Law on the Presidential Election of Mongolia]
I am interested in the second kind of run-off here, i.e. the leading vote-getter on June 26 only gets a plurality of votes, not a majority, triggering a run-off between the top two vote-getters, i.e. Ts Elbegdorj and B Bat-Erdene, unless something really dramatic (and unlikely) happens in the campaign.
Third (and more) Candidates
In my post previewing the election for the Financial Times’ ‘beyond BRICS’ blog, I had initially mistakenly written that N Udval was the first third candidate in a presidential election because the 2009 election when I was an election monitor only involved N Enkhbayar and Ts Elbegdorj.
Let’s quickly look at the vote share of 3rd and 4th candidates in previous elections (I’m taking all the figures below from the nicely organized Wikipedia pages on Mongolian presidential elections).
1997: 6.8% (J Gombojav, Mongolian Conservative United Party)
2001: 3.6% (L Dashnyam, Civil Will)
2005: 14.1% (B Jargalsaikhan, Republican Party); 11.5% (B Erdenebat, Motherland Party)
If we assume for a moment that there is some continuity in voters’ behaviour when faced with a choice of more than two candidates, independent of the party affiliation and the party candidates themselves, we would expect Udval to receive some share of the votes that lies between 3 and 15%, roughly. [If there are any election specialists out there, I would welcome comments on whether such an expectation of consistency across elections is reasonable.]
Thinking purely about the numbers then, every percentage point of votes that Udval receives, means that one of the two other candidates has to win that many more votes relative to the other candidate. If Udval wins 10% of the votes, for example, Elbegdorj would have to win over 56% to Bat-Erdene’s 44% among the remaining 90% of voters who didn’t vote for Udval in order to avoid a run-off. The number of votes Udval can garner thus has a significant impact on the likelihood of a run-off.
Put another way, winning candidates in multicandidate elections in the past have been able to avoid the run-off by decisively beating the 2nd place candidate.
1997: N Bagabandi’s 62.5% vs. P Ochirbat’s 30.6%
2001: N Bagabandi’s 59.2% vs. R Gonchigdorj’s 37.2%
2005: N Enkhbayar’s 54.2% vs. M Enkhsaikhan’s 20.2%
1997 and 2001 seem particularly relevant here as both elections involved three candidates and the 3rd candidates received relatively few votes, a scenario that is likely this year. In both elections, Bagabandi received around 60% of the votes.
The question of how strong Udval will be as a candidate is what I devoted the first post in this series to. The early days of campaigning have not given any indication that she is building any significant momentum by turning out to be a candidate that holds a (surprising) appeal to any specific groups of voters. I will thus stick with my guess of a result of more than 3%, but probably less than 10% for her for the moment. Obviously, that is quite a range when taking the electoral math above into account.
Let’s look at results from last year’s parliamentary election as a guide. Udval appears to be widely perceived as a stand-in for Enkhbayar so we might assume that she will receive a good portion of the Enkhbayar loyalist vote. I also assume that most Enkhbayar loyalists are fairly motivated to vote as they are disgruntled about Enkhbayar’s fate. They may also be concentrated in the countryside where participation rates are higher.
To estimate the share of Enkhbayar/MPRP loyalists, it is the share in the popular vote in the parliamentary election that is relevant as direct mandates in specific ridings might be subject to a different dynamic. The Justice Coalition received 22.3% of the popular vote in the 2012 parliamentary election.
Obviously, these are not all MPRP or Enkhbayar loyalists as the Coalition also includes the Mongolian National Democratic Party and I don’t see any obvious way to take a guess at the share of the 22.3% that might have been MPRP vs. MNDP voters. However, my above estimate of 3-10% for Udval looks low when we look at the Justice Coalition’s 22.3% as that would suggest that as few as 10% or only as many as 40% of Justice Coalition voters were MPRP voters.
Despite the lack of excitement around Udval or her “Five Dangers” platform, the above does lead me to expect that she will get a share of the vote that might well force a run-off unless Elbegdorj can really outpoll Bat-Erdene.
This is the part that makes me hesitate to actually predict a run-off rather than to merely think it likely. I think that Mendee is absolutely right that Elbegdorj may well campaign very effectively and simply win the election, no matter what mathematical hurdle the Udval candidacy throws in his way.
He could win the election by a) running a very strong campaign himself, b) Bat-Erdene’s campaign faltering, or c) (perhaps most likely) some combination of a) and b).
Obviously, Elbegdorj has been in Mongolian politics for a long time and has a lot of experience campaigning. He continues to be a rousing speaker, and Mongolians seem to find him engaging (if not personable) when they see him from afar or on TV, as well as more up close. His presidency has not seen any major scandals or disasters that are tied to him in any way. There are some areas where he will point to achievements. In the absence of any mistakes during his first term, Elebgdorj will presumably enjoy some incumbency bonus.
Unlike Elbegdorj, Bat-Erdene is relatively untested as a candidate. Yes, he’s been elected to parliament, of course. But, even in 2012, he was elected via the Khentii aimag constituency. In some local races, the campaign may well amount to perceptions of a candidate as strongly rooted locally (I imagine that Bat-Erdene’s wrestling career helped here, as wrestlers often seem to be closely identified with their aimag of origin), as well as face recognition. His election and re-election in Khentii thus doesn’t necessarily signal that he’s a strong campaigner in the way that Elebgdorj’s involvement in multiple national campaigns does.
It thus remains to be seen whether Bat-Erdene runs into any scandals or gaffes along the way in the campaign that seriously hurt his chances. And, as is evident from previous elections, a weak second choice can certainly propel a frontrunner past the 50% hurdle.
Finally, Mendee’s argument about the strength of the DP organization and its strength in various state bodies is very interesting and perhaps most worrying. This will be one of the important aspects to watch about this election. Policy differences between Elbegdorj and Bat-Erdene might not amount to very much, but an Elebgdorj win would clearly cement DP domination for the next three years. Mendee’s reference to the winner-take-all aftermath of the 1996 or 2000 elections is thus a warning sign of what may be going on at the moment. This surely deserves a post of its own, in addition to a focus on this topic on this blog and by election monitors.