By Julian Dierkes
In 1996, the predecessor(s) of the DP won 50 of the 76 parliamentary seats at a time when P Ochirbat was still serving as president, having been swept into office by the democratic revolution. That was the last time a single political grouping (not quite a party yet) was as dominant as the MPP is now, having secured the presidency for U Khurelsukh after winning a landslide victory in the 2020 parliamentary election. The 1996 election seemed to herald a fundamental shift away from the then-MPRP, while the current situation represents the resurgence of the now-MPP and the demise of the DP seems increasingly likely. There will be much speculation and observation of the DP in the coming years, but here, I want to briefly focus on the election results of the three candidates/parties.
Talk about a landslide! Not only the biggest margin of victory in any presidential election, but some pretty astonishing margins in specifics aimags. Sure, aimags like Gobi-Altai or Sukhbaatar are not very populous (around 40k registered voters) but shares of the vote of 84.6% and 87.2%, respectively, are pretty astonishing in an election where voters had three other choices (if you include the blank ballot as an alternative) and were free to actually make that choice.
The 82.5% support in Khentii can at least be explained by that being Khurelsukh’s home province, but some of the other results? Yes, Gobi-Altai and Sukhbaatar had backed M Enkhbold in 2017 as well, but barely. Gobi-Altai in particular is surprising as the aimag had backed S Ganbaatar with over a third of the vote in 2017. While some of that might have been MPRP loyalists who might have voted MPP this time, a good number of those voters must have been protest voters (i.e. anti-MAHAH) and thus not likely Khurelsukh backers.
In Gobi-Altai, Khurelsukh garnered over 18,000 votes where M Enkhbold had received just under 9,600 or about half. [I will use approximate numbers below in case preliminary results are further adjusted. I’m working with ikon.mn’s summary of results because it is graphically most attractive.]
Khurelsukh’s “weakest” results came in the two almost-urban aimags of Darkhan-Uul and Orkhon, and in the Ulaanbaatar city districts, of course. Of the provinces, Selenge returned the weakest result for Khurelsukh with a still-astonishing 69.9%, but Selenge also had a very low turnout at 51.2%.
The city is a different story. Ignoring the smaller satellite districts, Khurelsukh’s strongest result came in Songinokhairkhan (67.3%, close to the national result of 67.7%), while the weakest result was still a majority of voters in Bayangol district (52.6%).
My Twitter bubble was pretty enthusiastic about Enkhbat’s candidacy. Perhaps more enthusiastic even than about KhUN in last year’s parliamentary election. And, perhaps, no surprise there, as foreign-trained, professional Ulaanbaatarites were assumed to be a strong source of support and are also represented disproportionately among my contacts. The greatest fear about Enkhbat’s chances probably was whether he was known by/would connect with rural voters.
His 20.3% really seems like quite a success in light of those questions. Yes, he did not come close to challenging Khurelsukh, nor even to forcing a run-off, but his candidacy certainly caught many voters’ attention despite his relative lack of political visibility since leaving parliament in 2012, and the very short campaign period to allow him to make himself better-known.
Some of the strong showing for Enkhbat surely is linked to the disaster that was the DP campaign. But note that Enkhbat came ahead of Erdene in all aimags except for Arkhangai and Bayan-Ulgii and his lead was typically greater than the share of blank ballots which most likely were DP protest voters.
Mongolians living abroad overwhelmingly supported Enkhbat, but that support only added 4k votes overall as voters had to come to embassies, something that might have been doable in geographically smaller countries like Japan or Germany, but a massive hurdle in Canada and the U.S., for example, particularly during pandemic travel injunctions.
In the populous city districts, Enkhbat received more than 30% of the votes in Bayangol, Bayanzurkh, Sukhbaatar, and Khaan-Uul while still receiving more than 20% in Songinokhairkhan and Chingeltei. Clearly, this vote went much, much beyond a bubble of foreign-educated urban elites. In those six populous districts, Enkhbat received more than 160k votes, hardly an elite in a city of 1.some million inhabitants.
Addendum June 24, 2021: Another way to think of that urban-rural difference is that of the total of just under 250k votes that Enkhbat received, approximately two thirds were cast in Ulaanbaatar while the remaining third were from other towns (Darkhan: 7,800, Erdenet: 8,000) and aimags. [Thanks to my colleague Brendan for asking about the share of absolute number of votes in a conversation!]
The most interesting result for the imminent future here is Songinokhairkhan, as D Sumiyabazar relinquished his parliamentary seat from that district when he became governor of Ulaanbaatar, necessitating a by-election for that seat. Vote shares here were Khurelsukh 67.3 (79k) Enkhbat 22.7% (27k) Erdene 4% (5k) blank 6% (7k) on turnout of 58.8%. Surely, KhUN will want to capitalize on Enkhbat’s success in the presidential election in that by-election, perhaps even by nominating Enkhbat and integrating him into the party.
There are so many ways in which this election was a (largely) self-inflicted disaster for S Erdene and for the DP.
There are no bright spots in the election results for Erdene or for the DP. Even if we assume that the majority of blank ballots cast were disaffected DP voters, the DP barely received over 20% in Arkhangai, an aimag where Battulga (barely) came ahead of M Enkhbold in the 2017 run-off. In Khovd, Ts Elbegdorj’s нутаг, the combined Erdene vote and blank ballots barely reached 13.3%, just ahead of Enkhbat at 12.7% and that assumes that all the blank ballots cast were DP voters.
In some of the most populous Ulaanbaatar ridings, Erdene barely received over 4% of the votes. 4%!