By-elections 2021

By Julian Dierkes

In the aftermath of the presidential election in June, one of the big questions that remained was whether the strong minority support that D Enkhbat received as linked to the weakness of S Erdene as a candidate or the DP as a party, his personal popularity, or whether this was another step in the rise of XYH as a new political force. Another question emerging from the presidential election is what nature the electoral alliance of the MPP and the MPRP will take.

These are two questions that will receive partial answers in the October 10 by-election for the parliamentary seat for the Ulaanbaatar district of Songinokhairkhan vacated by Ulaanbaatar governor D Sumiyabazar. At the same time, the Khentii seat vacated by U Khurelsukh when he became a candidate for president will also be contested, though this seems like it will be significantly less exciting given the margin of victory that Khurelsukh enjoyed in the 2020 parliamentary election (72.2%) and the 2021 presidential election (82.5%) indicating the strength of the MPP in this aimag.

Songinokhairkhan Candidates

MPP: E Batshugar

The story is all in the patronymic initial here. E is Enkhbayar, of course, the former president and leader of the MPRP. This candidacy thus appears to be fairly straight-forward payback for the MPRP’s support of Khurelsukh’s presidential campaign. Batshugar is not entirely unknown or inexperienced as he has previously served as deputy governor of the Bank of Mongolia, though we might also count that as a post that might be awarded as a patronage post rather than on the basis of the qualifications of an individual.

He was born in 1987 and is thus of the same 1980s generation as some of the younger leadership of the MPP such as PM Oyun-Erdene.

At first glance, there is nothing particularly noticeable about Batshugar, though given his clear popularity, Enkhbayar’s charisma and appeal have always been somewhat mysterious as well.

Note that earlier this year at least, Batshugar was investing heavily into online advertising.

Given this investment, however, the Batshugar campaign is not very visible on Twitter at the beginning of October and MPP support for his campaign also seems limited.

Additionally, at the time of writing, Marissa’s go-to for Enkhbayar-related news, eguur.mn, is not accessible. The latest story posted on their twitter feed relates to the current fuel crisis (see more on this below).

DP: E Bat-Uul

The DP has repeatedly failed to rejuvenate its leadership and move beyond a harkening to its opposition heroics in 1990 as a basis for political mobilization. This was perhaps most glaring in the trouncing it received in the 2020 parliamentary election where the party leadership refused to appoint any of the younger party activists and instead appointed a list of candidates dominated by party grandees. This slate performed miserably.

And now? Bat-Uul…

Yes, as former mayor of Ulaanbaatar, he clearly has some political base in the city. And yes, I suspect he is personally more popular than presidential candidate and party leader, S Erdene, for example, who received 4%, yes four percent, in the presidential election in Songinokhairkhan. But… Bat-Uul also carries a whiff of corruption with him from his time as Ulaanbaatar mayor. And, he certainly is not a figure that stands for the renewal of the DP.

XYH: B Naidalaa

We have to imagine that XYH fancies its chances in this by-election with party chair Naidalaa as a candidate.

In June, Enkhbat received 22.7% of the presidential votes in Songinokhairkhan. Not his strongest result, but nearly a quarter of voters. Clearly, his candidacy and thus presumably XYH as a political alternative resonated in urban districts. There are three aspects of Naidalaa’s candidacy in the by-election that will be important in determining the outcome: how nervous are voters about MPP dominance? how eager are voters to support XYH as a new political force? Will Naidalaa connect with voters in СХД?

Conventional wisdom on the 2017 presidential election was that Battulga rode fears about the MPP into his presidency. Yet, when he tried to raise just such fears earlier this year, the public was largely uninterested and Erdene’s candidacy as an MPP alternative bombed. Have fears about dominance by the MPP thus waned in the electorate? But what about the ongoing restlessness regarding COVID measures and Oyun-Erdene’s performance. Will voters turn against the MPP because of that?

The same conventional wisdom also saw XYH electoral gains as limited to elitist urban bubbles of professionals. On the one hand, this might explain Enkhbat’s less impressive result in СХД as a district with a large and – presumably – poorer/less well-educated population. On the other hand, his nearly quarter of the vote share (over 26,000 votes) clearly shows that support for him was not limited to an elite. Naidalaa surely represents XYH as a political force and his horseback campaigning (see below) will have added a populist touch that may play well, though he personally might come across to some voters as more aloof and intellectual/technocratic than Enkhbat.

And, two weeks before the election, there has been a bit of a social media hit in that Naidalaa has taken to campaigning on horseback.

This is not (just) a vaguely traditionalist gimmick (recall S Javkhlan’s regular horseback commute to parliament), but instead has been pointing the finger straight at the MPP government for the fuel shortage that has plagued Mongolia in September.

Obviously, the imagery of XYH campaigners on horseback has provided a bit of spice to the campaign and they’ve continued this innovation with other campaign formats/looks as well.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He tweets @jdierkes
This entry was posted in Democratic Party, Elections, Ikh Khural 2020, Mongolian People's Party, National Labor Party, Party Politics, Ulaanbaatar and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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