By Julian Dierkes
Over the past several months, Mendee and I have written several articles describing the mounting political frustration in Mongolia and the likelihood of a series of upheavals brining about political change in the coming 5-10 years.
Well, such a triggering event has happened with the SME Fund scandal breaking out in early November. Now what?
We have not seen mass demonstrations two weeks into the scandal. Mobilization has primarily been limited to Twitter where #Ждү has been one of the most active and unifying hashtags we have seen emerge on Mongolian social media.
But, political stirrings have surely resulted and are continuing to play themselves out.
Mongolian politics has long been in the fog of the MPP (MAH in Cyrillic) and DP (AH) domination.
Yet, since the dismissal of B Batzorig as minister, neither party has really shown a strong reaction to the scandal, perhaps in part because there are so many allegations against both parties’ MPs in the context of various state funds.
PM Khurelsukh has remained somewhat clear of these allegations and has thus put on some (relatively mild) pressure for investigations into the state funds.
In part in a defensive reaction to such investigations, the City faction in the MPP has raised its voice again and is threatening to unseat Khurelsukh after merely a year in office. This threat is not based on any failings on Khurelsukh’s part, at least not obviously, or connections to the SME Fund, but seems to be pure power games in the usual cycle of the factions in both parties attacking each other.
Some individual politicians have attempted to defend their actions, to apologize and/or to repay loans, but such attempts at damage control have generally been met with derision. Interestingly, these attempts have meant that some Twitter accounts have come to life which had been subject to the general blandness of professional political tweeting that reached Mongolia some years ago, treating Twitter not as a forum for interaction with constituents or political rivals, but as a broadcast medium for bland political messages.
Curiously, the MPRP has been relatively quiet, even though its leadership, especially former Pres. Enkhbayar would otherwise rarely miss a chance to score a populist, anti-establishment point. Ganbaatar, his understudy, has also been fairly quiet.
Returning Political Actors
Perhaps these reactions (or lack thereof) simply confirm that the current configuration of political parties has found no answer to combatting corruption in its own ranks.
As the protest against SME Fund corruption has largely unfolded on social media, especially on Twitter, any analysis is subject to the biases of my particular bubble of people I follow. But within that bubble there appear to be some notable trends.
There are some actors I had been vaguely aware of, but that have really jumped into the limelight of protest against the SME Fund corruption. One example I had mentioned before is NUM Prof. Otgontugs.
— Julian Dierkes (@jdierkes) November 12, 2018
She has also been involved in the movement to boycott the businesses involved in the SME Fund scandal, a somewhat novel tactic for political mobilization in Mongolia.
There are some politicians that had withdrawn a fair bit from political visibility who have become more active again now in discussions surrounding the SME Fund scandal. Not much had been heard from former Pres. Elbegdorj in the past year, but he has given some speeches recently, in part to defend expenses in connection with the ASEM summit, which have been linked to the SME Fund scandal as another example of the self-service attitude that some politicians have toward state fund.
Former Minister of Justice, Temuujin has also revived his Twitter account somewhat.
But most notable to me, has been the re-emergence of the XUH Party. It had initially formed ahead of the 2016 parliamentary election to serve as an alternative to the MPP-DP duopoly, but had unfortunately gambled on Ganbaatar as its face which had back-fired as it had cost the party a lot of credibility as a new force. Subsequently, Ganbaatar has been brought into the MPRP, of course.
At the time, I was also not impressed by some interactions with XUH Party representatives who were unwilling to say much about the party’s financing which doomed the party as an anti-corruption force in my eyes.
So, their Twitter account had laid more or less dormant in my timeline until the events of the past several weeks. Now, they are tweeting again, being re-tweeted, and several individuals have inserted themselves into public discussions. Naidalaa wrote a much-noted explainer of the system of corruption that came to light in the SME Fund scandal (which he translated into English for us). Munkhdul “Mogi” B announced that he would take on the leadership of the XUH youth organization. This move in particular makes me personally very happy as I had been hoping that Mogi would get directly involved in politics for some time.
Obviously, it is entirely unclear what might come of the XUH initiative and I continue to speculate what constellation of different actors might bring about the most constructive political change (anti-corruption, but with more of a political/ideological/policy profile to spur political debate), but I am encouraged to see some mobilization occurring in the wake of the current scandal even though mass protests have not happened (yet).
Many readers will have a different sense of the voices that are prominent in the aftermath of the SME Fund scandal. Please share in the comments!