Prime Minister Altankhuyag has been leading the government for almost two years. To an outside observer like me, he has remained a puzzle in how he has been able to keep a coalition and a divided party united first for the presidential election, and then under his leadership as prime minister.
Throughout the past 1 1/2 years rumours about the imminent end to the Altankhuyag government have come and gone frequently. With the MPP in a period of redefining the party, its platform and leadership, most of the speculation has focused on factions within the DP.
At the moment, the rumours of a likely change in government seem to be picking up again. Some pressure might be linked to the on-going economic challenges, lack of foreign investment, and lack of transparency in spending of funds from foreign bonds.
Why Now? Proposal to Redefine Cabinet Membership
President Elbegdorj has initiated a law that would restrict membership in cabinet to non-MPs contrary to the current practice where almost all ministers are MPs. A draft of this law was proposed earlier this year. The original proposal suggested that the law would take effect after the 2016 parliamentary election. However, the MPP, as well as the DP’s coalition-partner MPRP and some individuals including Ganbaatar and even some DP members (such as Amarjargal, Batchimeg), have rejected the notion of delaying the implementation of this law until the next parliament.
Because the division of power between the president, the prime minister, and parliament has been left somewhat unclear by the Mongolian constitution, this proposal is another round in the battle to divide power. Even though MPs would lose the opportunity to serve in the cabinet, they would gain power over ministers by having to approve their appointment.
It’s unclear what might motivate Pres. Elbegdorj to push for this change, but Prime Minister Altankhuyag and the DP have delayed discussions of this proposal.
Another development threatening PM Altankhuyag is that his daughter, A Saranzaya, has been implicated in the Anti-Corruption Agency’s investigation of the Clean Air Program that has led to the recent sentencing of Khurelsukh, a former advisor to the Prime Minister and director of the Clean Air Program. Because the Anti-Corruption Agency is seen to be guided by the President in some cases, Saranzaya’s investigation suggests that there has been a split or at least some tension between Elbegdorj and Altankhuyag.
What Might Happen?
In principle there are three ways for a government to fall:
- resignation of the PM
- a majority of cabinet members withdraw their support for the PM
- parliament has a vote of non-confidence (potentially initiated by the president)
It does not appear likely that PM Altankhuyag would resign. However, if he feels threatened by the current situation he might respond with a cabinet shuffle. In such a reshuffle he would likely try to sideline four of the most powerful and querulous ministers: Batbayar (Econ Development), Ganhuyag (Mining), Gansukh (Transport) all from the DP, and Ulaan (Finance) from the MPRP.
However, discussion of cabinet membership would precede a decision about the Prime Minister. And the question of whether the law – if passed, or if a compromise like the previous maximum of one third MPs as cabinet members is adopted – would apply now or in 2016 would obviously determine the nature of any cabinet moves.
The proposal to end dual responsibility (ie MPs serving in cabinet) is generally seen as an attempt to clarify the relationship between parliament and the government. Elbegdorj’s decision in late 2000 to appoint one third MPs to cabinet is now seen as problematic for giving cabinet greater power over parliament.
While the DP is enjoying strong approval ratings, PM Altankhuyag’s reputation is suffering quickly.
The public has been very supportive of Pres Elbegdorj’s initiative to restrict dual responsibilities.
In order of likelihood these seem to be the looming scenarios:
- Altankhuyag stays as PM with the support of DP, MPRP and CWGP as before, but with a cabinet of non-MPs
- The coalition falls apart and a grand coalition of the DP and MPP forms, probably under the leadership of Altankhuyag
- A new prime minister is supported by the DP, MPRP and CWGP coalition
- No change in PM, coalition, and cabinet.
[This post drew on discussions with UBC graduate students G Damdinnyam & J Mendee]