Roughly a month after MPP members were kicked out of cabinet, we now appear to have a Saikhanbileg II cabinet forming.
The new cabinet members are:
- G Bayarsaikhan (DP), Min of Labour
- B Bolor (DP), Min of Finance
- M Zorigt (DP), Min of Roads and Transport
- N Battsereg (JC), Min of Environment , Green Development and Tourism
- Z Bayanselenge (JC), Min of Construction and Urban Development
- Ts Oyunbaatar (JC), Deputy PM
Note that these are all current MPs. The ambition to not appoint a majority of members of parliament to the cabinet (avoiding the “double-deel”) has thus apparently been abandoned even though it was one of the issues that animated political debates in 2014, and was emphasized by PM Saikhanbileg in announcing his first cabinet. The only non-MP members of cabinet are now D Dorjiglav (Justice), R Jigjid (Mining), L Purevsuren (Foreign Affairs), and G Shiilegdamba (Health and Sports).
Note also that neither S Oyun nor S Demberel from the Civil Will Green Party have joined the cabinet suggesting that this is not quite a return to the coalition under PM Altankhuyag pre-Nov 2014 as it does not appear to include the CWGP. Instead, cabinet now includes six ministers nominated by the Justice Coalition suggesting their increased clout within cabinet.
Last November we had offered mini-bios and the faction affiliation of Saikhanbileg I cabinet members, here’s a limited update (DP faction/ Justice Coalition party membership).
- G Bayarsaikhan (DP: Falcon faction)
- B Bolor (DP: Mongolian National Progressive Party faction)
- M Zorigt (DP: Mongolian Democratic Union faction)
- N Battsereg (JC: MNDP)
- Z Bayanselenge (JC: MPRP)
- Ts Oyunbaatar (JC: MPRP)
Given the continuity in the Prime Minister and the fact that the super coalition has simply been reduced to a coalition, there is no reason to expect any major shifts in policy. The previous MPP members of the cabinet did not seem to differ in any specific policies from the PM and his other colleagues, so their forced departure should not lead to any redirection of efforts or review of previous decisions.
Of the major resource projects that would continue to jump start the Mongolian economy again, Tavan Tolgoi is the obvious remaining challenge. However, it strikes me as quite unlikely that this (or any future cabinet, before or after the election) will have much luck with that particular project. The first (almost insurmountable in my mind) hurdle is the fact that multiple private Mongolian investors are vying for variously large pieces of the TT project. While more private sector involvement may be a good thing in some people’s eyes, I see it as ultimately leading to a stalemate between different efforts to lobby for a particular domestic investor to gain the upper hand. As a resource, the thermal coal that might be produced at TT is increasingly unattractive on the international market as even China may be moving away from coal in the long run. In the medium term there may still be plenty of a market, but this is not exactly a future-oriented investment. Coking or metallurgical coal by contrast is likely to continue to find buyers into the future.. The decline of the use of thermal coal may make TT less of a prize possession than it seemed some year ago.
Beyond Oyu Tolgoi and the economy, I had included a number of other policy arenas that I was hoping Saikhanbileg I might address: anti-corruption, public service, higher education, long-term research to promote diversification, strengthening policy-making capacity, a role for repats, support for aimag centres, and nurturing democracy (incl. democracy as an important pillar in foreign policy). I don’t really expect movement in any of these areas (though the topics have lost none of their urgency in my mind).
It is relatively unclear how long this cabinet might last. The DP continues to be rife with vaguely suicidal factional battles which might erupt at any moment again. The tug-of-war about the MPRP-demanded amnesty law suggests that that party and the Justice Coalition might also become less attractive as a partner as the election approaches. But whatever permutation of DP-led coalitions might arrive, the looming election probably will prevent both, any significant change of policy direction, and – sadly – any real policy achievements.