Presidential Election Outlook

By Julian Dierkes

Parties will nominate candidates my May 2 before Mongolians will vote on a new president on June 9, 2021.

Depending on the outcome of the election this will be the 5th or 6th president since the democratic revolution. I fully expect that the election will run as smoothly as previous elections have run, though that continuity also implies that there will be many complaints about election fraud.

At the broadest level, I do not see any candidates running or winning who would bring about significant departures from past policies. That is not to say that the prospective candidates are not very different in personalities and in the style in which they would govern, but within the limited range of decisions that the president makes, all the likely candidates will be relatively similar as they have been in the past.

Constitutional and Election Changes

Following the November 2019 amendments, this next president will be elected for a single term for six years and will thus serve until 2027. Note that the change in the duration of the term will mean that the next presidential election will come three years after/one year before a parliamentary election, thus breaking the patter of following a year after the parliamentary vote.

Candidates will have to be at least 50 years old.

Unlike the 2020 parliamentary election, Mongolians living abroad will be able to cast a ballot by submitting absentee ballots to Mongolian missions abroad.

Mongolian People’s Party

When U Khurelsukh abruptly resigned as Prime Minister, my ultimate conclusion was that he did so with an eye toward the presidential election. While Pres Battulga seems to have thought that Su Batbold might be a likely nominee some weeks ago, it currently seems like Khurelsukh is very likely to be the MPP’s nominee.

To be nominated, Khurelsukh will have to resign from the party, of course, and thus also relinquish his position as chairman of the party. Given the MPP’s super-majority in parliament, the default would be for the party chairman to also be the prime minister (and vice versa). L Oyun-Erdene will certainly want to try to also be elected as party chairman. This give him a strong stake in the election as prime minister since the possibility of a Khurelsukh defeat would make the party leadership picture somewhat more muddled.

Khurelsukh Candidacy

In the Fall I would have still said that Khurelsukh’s chances at being elected were very good. He cruised to a re-election victory in last year’s parliamentary election and that victory seemed like an endorsement of his leadership particularly in efforts to combat air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, but also in Mongolia’s battle against COVID. It’s that latter aspect that makes his victory seem less certain now and perhaps more dependent on the developments of the coming weeks and months regarding outbreaks and vaccination.

In international comparisons, Mongolia had seemed quite successful largely through decisive measures and the closing of the few entry points in Spring of 2020. But that success fell apart a bit in November when local transmission started and it has been a see-saw process of declining and rising-again infections since. Even though impact in Mongolia has been relatively minor, the same kind of strange dynamics of lockdown fatigue, impatience for a re-opening and debates about vaccination priorities are playing out in Mongolia as elsewhere in the world. Toward late March now, it seems like an increase in infections along the lines of what is happening in Europe may be likely. How PM Oyun-Erdene will respond and how Mongolians will react to that response seems likely to have an impact on Khurelsukh’s chances in the election.

President Khurelsukh?

As I wrote above, a transition from Pres Battulga to a Pres Khurelsukh would not be abrupt in policy terms. It would turn the super-majority that the MPP holds in parliament into a general mega-majority because it would give the MPP the three highest offices and thus control of the National Security Council and would – presumably – reduce any likelihood of conflict between the president and the prime minister/parliament.

Khurelsukh’s own military background might make him more interested in the military than previous presidents have been, but that would not really be likely to lead to a change in policy. In foreign policy where the Battulga presidency has seen a significant decline in Mongolia’s relevance to the world, Khurelsukh is unlikely to make much of a change. His personal preferences might drive less of his activities and perhaps he would follow the examples of MPP foreign minister in re-engaging Third Neighbours, but he doesn’t seem to be a personality that really emphasizes international relations in the way that Pres. Elbegdorj did, for example. His response to crises (flashpoints with China like language policy or, at some point, Dalai Lama succession) might be more careful, measured and predictable than Pres. Battulga’s.

There’s little in his tenure as prime minister to suggest that he would attempt to use the mega-majority as a springboard to more personal power a la various “strong men”.

Democratic Party

Who knows at this point? The DP really seem to lose their mojo with the parliamentary election last year and protracted leadership battles since then. It is hard to imagine that the party would rally behind Battulga in a re-election bid, in fact it seems uncertain that the party would even nominate him. There does not seem to be a clear front-runner for the candidacy should the DP not nominate Battulga, but his nomination in 2017 was also not quite expected and look what happened then!

Candidate Battulga

And it’s not only the DP nomination that may be an obstacle to a re-election bid. While the constitutional amendments in 2019 ultimately gained Pres Battulga’s support and that was interpreted to mean that the change in the presidential term to a single, but longer term would allow him to stand for re-election, that appears to be ambiguous. The constitutional question in part circles around a determination of whether the amendments re-set the clock on the presidential term, so that Battulga would enter not to be re-elected but to be elected under new circumstances. If he were to be nominated, constitutional shenanigans would almost certainly ensue.

If not the DP, would another party nominate him? I could certainly imagine N Enkhbayar negotiating a deal that would trade a nomination (thumbing his nose at the MPP) for his own reinstatement for future elections. But, the perennially-talked-about re-merger of the MPP and the MPRP is also, once again, um, being talked about.

Battulga would be free of the whiff of a failing COVID response since his role has been quite limited. He is also relatively free of any notable successes and even after four years in office, I can still not identify a specific policy or initiative that he is pursuing. Of course, Mongolian voters might see that very differently.

Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party

Who knows at this point? Maybe Ulaanbaatar taxi drivers could tell us, but I am unable to visit…

XYH

One of the great successes of the election of XYH’s T Dorjkhand to parliament was that representation of the party gives it the chance to nominate a candidate for president.

In February, the party turned to a public nomination process and some strong (if ineligible due to an outrageously restrictive, but near-universal citizenship requirement) candidates emerged:

Dorjkhand himself is (also) ineligible for being too young. While electoral coalitions can always emerge, I certainly expect XYH to nominate a candidate and maybe they’ll make a bold choice. I have to admit that I liked some of the rumoured possibilities like former MP Oyun (though she seems not to be inclined) or Jargal de Facto. Very hard to even guess at what the chances of a very prominent and credible XYH candidate might be and whether such a candidate would lead to vote-splitting with the DP (depending on their candidate).

If a XYH candidate were to be elected, that could bring some significant change in political style to instigate a change in political culture, but policy differences would be somewhat limited.

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 Democracy, Democratic Party, Foreign Policy, Military, Mongolian People's Party, Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, National Labor Party, Presidential 2021 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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