A Renewed Khurelsukh Cabinet

By Byambajav Dalaibuyan

Under the recent constitutional amendments, the Prime Minister has the power to appoint and dismiss cabinet ministers. Previously, the parliament had lengthy sessions to discuss candidates proposed by the Prime Minister one by one and voted on their appointment.

The Government of Mongolia will have 14 ministries. In accordance with MPP’s election platform, the Ministry of Culture was newly established. The main priorities will likely be the construction of a number of new museums such as Chinggis Khaan museum, protection of tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and promoting Mongolian arts and culture abroad.

The widely anticipated Ministry of Development Planning was not included in the new government structure. The MPP seems to have a lack of clear roadmap for establishing the ministry and may have considered possible overlaps between old ministries and new one.  The Ministry of Finance and the National Development Agency will retain their roles in national development planning.

Khurelsukh’s cabinet will have the following 16 ministers:

Deputy Prime Minister Yangug SODBAATAR (Янгугийн Содбаатар) is former MP (2012-2020) and Minister of Road and Transport Development. Sodbaatar was allegedly involved in the SME Fund scandal in 2018 and has been under pressure from civil society and the media. He did not compete in the 2020 elections, opting to manage party’s election campaign.

Head of the Cabinet Secretariat of Government Luvsannamsrai OYUN-ERDENE (Лувсаннамсрайн Оюун-Эрдэнэ) will remain as a key figure in the cabinet.

Former Minister of Health Davaajantsan SARANGEREL (Даваажанцангийн Сарангэрэл) will lead the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. She has received praise for her handling of Covid-19 crisis in the country, which greatly contributed to MPP’s election win.

Minister of Defense Gursed SAIKHANBAYAR (Гүрсэдийн Сайханбаяр) has had a long career in the Mongolian Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense and studied in military academies in Mongolia, China and Russia.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nyamtseren ENKHTAIVAN (Нямцэрэнгийн Энхтайван) was Head of Office of MPP’s parliamentary group in 2016-2020 and had executive and advisory roles at the ministry and Mongolian Embassy in China. He studied in China, New Zealand and USA.

Chimed KHURELBAATAR (Чимэдийн Хүрэлбаатар) will remain as Minister of Finance.

Khishgee NYAMBAATAR (Хишгээгийн Нямбаатар) will serve as Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs, replacing Ts.Nyamdorj, one of MPP’s influential figure, who could not win a seat in parliament.

Minister of Labour and Social Protection Ayush ARIUNZAYA (Аюушийн Ариунзаяа) led the National Statistical Office of Mongolia in 2016-2020. She is a granddaughter of former PM P.Jasrai (1992-1996).

Begjav MUNKHBAATAR (Бэгжавын Мөнхбаатар) was promoted from Deputy Minister to Minister of Construction and Urban Development. He served as a Board Member of Oyu Tolgoi LLC in 2016-2018 and CEO of Erdenes Oyu Tolgoi SOE.

Minister of Education and Science Lhagva TSEDEVSUREN (Лхагвын Цэдэвсүрэн) has been a senior public official responsible for public administration and legal affairs at the ministry since the 1990s.

Luvsan KHALTAR (Лувсангийн Халтар) was promoted from Deputy Minister to Minister of Road and Transport Development. He has a long career in the railway sector. His main priority will likely be the construction of Tavantolgoi-Zuunbayan and Tavantolgoi-Gashuunsukhait railways.

Sampildondov CHULUUN (Сампилдондовын Чулуун), a historian and the Head of Institute of History within the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, will lead the newly established Ministry of Culture.

Minister of Mining and Heavy Industry Geleg YONDON (Гэлэнгийн Ёндон) is a mining engineer with over 30 years of professional experience, mostly at Mongolrostsetmet, state owned mining company.

Minister of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry Zagdjav MENDSAIKHAN (Загджавын Мэндсайхан) is also quite unfamiliar to many people. His CV shows that he run several companies until he became Head of Department at the Ministry of Finance in 2015. Mendsaikhan served as State Secretary of Ministry of Energy in 2016-2019.

Minister of Energy Nansal TAVINBEKH (Нансалын Тавинбэх) is an electrical engineer and has had managing positions at Baganuur South-Eastern Region Electricity Distribution Network.

Minister of Health Togtmol MUNKHSAIKHAN (Тогтмолын Мөнхсайхан) is the youngest (37) among ministers and was the Director of State First Clinic.

Like the composition of MPP’s candidates for the parliamentary elections, a number of new, young people were included in the new cabinet. The only remaining ministers from Khurelsukh’s previous cabinet are L.Oyun-Erdene, Ch.Khurelbaatar and D.Sarangerel.

8 of 16 ministers are people aged between 37 and 46. Minister of Health T.Munkhsaikhan is the youngest (37) and D.Sarangerel, now Minister of Environment and Tourism, is the oldest (57).

The MPP seems to have taken careful consideration about professional competence and experience of new ministers, which has been a major problem in previous governments. However, questions will remain over the capacity of ministers to act independently and in transparent manner.

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Guest Post: A Flawed Electoral System?

By Johann Fuhrmann and Max Duckstein

Already a day after the elections some independent candidates began to call for a recounting of the ballots. In the following days, smaller parties and parts of the DP joined these demands. But irrespective of accusations about commas on live screens or single voters casting more than one vote there are big flaws in the current setup of the electoral system. To address these defects will be equally necessary and challenging. While some are rather rooted in the general setup of Mongolia’s power structures others could be changed by adjusting electoral laws and in particular party financing.

Multiple non-transferable vote

Under the current electoral system, a strong party structure and a known party brand bring the MPP (and to a lesser extent the DP) an advantage which results in the de facto exclusion of smaller parties and independent candidates. It can be expected that the roughly 220,000 members of the MPP give all of their (2 or 3) votes to “their” candidates. With around 2,000,000 eligible voters this already constitutes around 11 % of the votes. Acknowledging this, the party spent a part of its efforts before the elections trying to mobilize this core support group using their call centres and social networks. The DP is the only other party that can at least in theory somehow match these numbers with around 180,000 members. But the DP’s structure is nowhere as rigid and as effective and thus (right now) failing to mobilize their core group in a similar manner. Nonetheless, these numbers exemplify the starting advantage of the major parties during elections. Whilst this is natural to any party democracy, it creates a block to new political forces under the current electoral system.

Given the ruling party’s popularity, more than a third of non-member voters selected MPP-candidates on their ballot. But even voters who intended to cast their votes for an independent or small party candidate were faced with a difficult choice: Their remaining one or two votes needed to be cast as well for their vote to be valid. Unless they hold a particular grudge against the two big parties a significant part of them also chose candidates from MPP or DP, especially since available party funds and a more centralized network provided most of their candidates with opportunities to make themselves known among their electorate. But even if voters conspicuously tried to avoid voting for these candidates their votes were split between different smaller parties and independent candidates. An alliance consisting of 42 independent candidates admittedly managed to pass an election program. But similarly to the four party coalitions, their brand recognition remained low especially among the majority of the population which is not actively engaged in politics. This became especially difficult after the enlargement of the voting districts. Larger voting districts naturally require candidates to run bigger, more expensive campaigns. Personally meeting voters and speaking to them likewise became more difficult, even more so under COVID-19 restrictions. Both developments favour again parties with an existing broad member base, centralized networks, and large funds. The limiting of election campaigning to only three weeks ahead of the balloting only intensified these limitations.

However, effective party structures also exist in other countries. But while receiving a majority of the votes should obviously result in getting the most seats in parliament it should not result in denying access to most other candidates. The extent of the discrepancy between the share of MPP votes (44,8 %) and the seats in parliament (81,6 %) is higher even than in most first-past-the-post voting systems. This is especially concerning since it is becoming more and more imprecise to call Mongolia a two-party system by popular demand: In these elections around 30 % of the electorate voted for a candidate not affiliated with either of the two big parties. While a certain misrepresentation of the DP in parliament is concerning (24,5 % of the votes vs. 14,5 % of the seats), the lack of representation of smaller parties and independent candidates is unsettling. An electoral system not representing these 600.000 voters may lose popular legitimacy in the long run. Although a ruling of the constitutional court in 2016 clarified that proportional representation is not in accord with the Mongolian constitution, finding a way to democratically represent the growing part of the constituency which is not satisfied with the status quo has to be a priority.

Party financing

One element in securing a fairer and more competitive democratic environment would be to create stable funding for smaller parties. Although there currently is a public subsidy for party financing, it remains relatively minuscule compared to actual campaign spending. Only parties who win a seat in parliament are eligible for the meager singular payment of MNT1,000 per vote. Per obtained seat, each party gains MNT10 million additionally per year. While this might sound high at first glance, it only adds up to €1m for the current electoral cycle even in the case of the MPP. Campaigns can cost up to hundreds of thousands of Euros per candidate. This already places the seed for manipulation and corruption into the electoral system. Understandably, attempts to reallocate parts of the state budget to the two major parties are usually met with great suspicion. Not sufficiently subsidizing parties altogether might be more damaging for the Mongolian democracy in the end. Currently, competing for political office is not just the expression of active citizenship but it poses a serious economic risk and inevitably becomes an economic investment. Offering bigger state subsidies to smaller parties as well as the two major parties and enabling them to actively participate in shaping the political landscape without being mainly financed by private capital should constitute a legitimate designation for reforming the current system. That this must be accompanied by strict supervision and rigorous auditing should be obvious. Unfortunately, the overwhelming dominance of the MPP in parliament provides little incentive for the government to implement a party finance law that would ultimately profit their political rivals. The last attempt by a presidential working group consisting of political scientists and law scholars led by the experts Gerelt-Od, Uurtsaikh, and Chuluunbileg submitted its proposal for a reformed political parties law in 2016. This included a section on public subsidies for parties, which was based on German law. Unfortunately, the parliament did not discuss the outline.

Media ownership

Closely connected to party finance is the worrying issue of media ownership. A large majority of media outlets are directly connected to the major parties through their owners. While the MPP is affiliated to the plurality of them, the issue of often-murky ownership is a more general one. Whereas the political domination of media outlets is in itself a concern, the lack of a clear and transparent ownership structure contributes to the often-unclear role the extensive, already hard to navigate media landscape plays in political conflicts. Although the situation has worsened over the last years, the Mongolian Press Institute and the MOM-project do great work on mapping the ownership and interest networks behind Mongolia’s biggest outlets (e.g. http://mongolia.mom-rsf.org/fileadmin/rogmom/output/mongolia.mom-rsf.org/mongolia.mom-rsf.org-en.pdf).

A system in need of structural change

None of these problems will be solved overnight. But they must be addressed for Mongolian democracy to stay resilient and vibrant. While the constitution limits the possibilities of representative democracy, a way must be found to include the growing numbers of voters choosing alternatives to the two major parties in the political process. Despite current public sentiment, stable and fair party finance will be a cornerstone for this endeavour. Lastly, the politicized ownership structures of media outlets constitute a further challenge to a functioning and active exchange over new ideas in the political arena. However, in the current political environment, extensive structural reforms seem unlikely. In times of a lurking economic crisis, it seems unlikely that these issues will become a priority on the political agenda during coming months.

About Johann Fuhrmann and Max Duckstein

Johann Fuhrmann heads the office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation in Mongolia. Prior to that, he was Head of Growth and Innovation at the Economic Council (Wirtschaftsrat der CDU). As a scholarship holder of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation he obtained his Master’s degree (MSc.) in International Relations at the London School of Economics.

Max Duckstein is Senior Policy Analyst at the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation’s office in Mongolia. He obtained his Master’s degree (M.A.) in Sociology at Bielefeld University. As a scholarship holder of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) he spent a semester in Russia as visiting researcher at Saint Petersburg State University.

Posted in Constitution, Democracy, Elections, Ikh Khural 2020, Johann Fuhrmann, Max Duckstein, Party Politics, Politics | Leave a comment

Guest Post: The 2020 Election and the Online News

By Judith Nordby

Did online news sites reflect voters’ concerns and their opinions of the candidates in the recent election? This I asked myself while consulting Mongolian language sites – written by Mongolians for Mongolians. Ikon.mn, news.mn, sonin.mn and dnn.mn were interesting and informative but I also checked sites close to political forces and business interests for alternative opinion. Interviews, journalistic coverage, campaign reports and party/candidate statements revealed that economic problems – unemployment, poverty and national debt – were fundamental for voters. Some thought international mining companies operating in Mongolia was economically good for the country, others that it drained national wealth. There were many calls for incompetent and corrupt politicians linked to corruption scandals such as the Tg60bn affair and the SME Fund. Personal attacks on individuals as liars, thieves, swindlers, and murderers conveyed strong feelings while supporters praised the same people as patriots, honest, professional and hard-working. There was clamour for the removal of politicians who had dominated government for three decades, especially members of the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) and the Democratic Party (DP), in favour of younger, better-qualified people, especially economists, who were not tarnished by corruption. In compliance with election and transparency legislation, the details of candidates’ incomes and assets were made available and displayed in user-friendly format on Ikon.mn alongside regular news items. However, other candidate information, such as education, familial relationships and employment history, which are always of concern to voters, was generally patchy. Slander, false news and ‘politically motivated polls’ were officially forbidden. The media were understandable cautious about what they published for fear of punishment as a 2019 human rights report, had stated; comments on news posts ceased during the three-week campaign. However between the lines, election accounts, interviews and expert opinion continued to convey some of the public feeling.

Is it legal to remand electoral candidates?

Questions of justice and legality attracted much attention. During the constitutional amendment debate (See Constitutional Amendments Adopted) many strong opinions were expressed about the appointment of judges and the danger of greater political control of the judiciary. During the election period, news items reflected the belief of the public and members of different parties that the justice system was being used as a means of silencing political opponents. N Nomtoibayar is a case in point; he was registered as an independent candidate in Khan Uul on 2 June and arrested on 6 June charged with giving false evidence over a suspicious death and abuse of power in the allocation of loans when minister of labour and social protection (2016-2018). Lawyers and supporters claimed the custody violated the 2019 election law because a candidate may not be detained without the Election Commission’s consent. Nomtoibayar is not alone; other high profile candidates currently in jail include the DP’s S Bayartsogt, D Ganbold and B Byambasaikhan for involvement in the controversial Oyu Tolgoi mining agreements of 2009 and 2015. J Erdenebat (MPP) faces charges of fraudulent acquisition of land and a mining licence when he was premier (2016-2017). When offered bail well above the penalty stipulated in the criminal code, he said he could not pay and was jailed. Court hearings for these candidates were regularly postponed and supporters, including Nomtoibayar’s father, continued campaigning on the candidates’ behalf. In a letter published online Nomtoibayar protested his innocence and a ‘Free Nomt Movement’ has demonstrated for his release. It is claimed that Nomtoibayar’s real crime is crossing swords with premier Khurelsukh over the SME scandal and demanding his dismissed; Nomtoibayar was expelled from the MPP and resigned from parliament in January 2019. In the eyes of his supporters, though, he is honest and one of the ‘good guys’ notwithstanding his considerable wealth and family links with the mining company, Mongolyn Alt. Ultimately, he was not elected and Erdenebat was the only detainee to win although whether he will be able to take up his seat, is open to question. A court statement in response to the challenges maintains that custody of a candidate is not illegal if an investigation began before the election period. Critics say that the whole business undermines confidence in the primary court system.

A most unusual election

Campaigns from jail were unprecedented but the 2020 election was unusual in other ways: Covid-19 restrictions limited campaigning; there was heavy rain and flooding, and power cuts and lightning strikes to polling stations. The introduction of multi-candidate constituencies caused confusion and rumours spread about the new voting rules. Nevertheless the turnout of 74% was the highest in ten years but the lowest showing was in the 18-24 age group, dashing hopes that youth participation would swing the vote away from the two-party dominance of MANAN. The MPP emerged victorious.

When online comment reappeared on the media the next day the consensus was that the DP had lost because it was weak and disunited; its leader S Erdene resigned. The MPP attributed its own success to achievements in government since 2016 and to public confidence in its next programme.  Media comments offer alternative reasons: first-time voters did not have sufficient information to make confident choices while the MPP victory was not so much a sign of satisfaction with the party and premier, U Khurelsukh, but of greater dissatisfaction with the DP. Even before voting started, some were put off by R Amarjagal, the DP’s choice, saying he would only be a front man for the unpopular Erdene. At the very least, it seems that the electorate had little stomach for yet another hung parliament or space for independents; for older voters, stability was important. There have been claims that the electronic voting system was hacked or faulty, to the particular detriment of independents, and appeals to void the results, though whether any will be overturned remains to be seen. The bigger questions are: will the electorate get a government with honest and capable politicians, will election promises be kept and will citizen’s lives, incomes and opportunities improve.

About Judith Nordby

Judith Nordby is former head of Mongolian Studies at the University of Leeds, now Honorary Fellow in Mongolian Studies and consultant on contemporary Mongolian affairs.


Posted in Ikh Khural 2020, Judith Nordby, Law, Media and Press, Social Media | Leave a comment

Election Analyses Panel, June 29

Mongolians voted on June 24. The Mongolian People’s Party won a resounding victory with 62 of 76 seats.

We’ll analyze these results, discuss incoming MPs, focus a bit on gender and leave lots of time for questions and comments.

Monday, June 29
Special Guest

B Otgontugs, Professor of Economics, National University of Mongolia and Candidate, Right Person Elektorat Coalition, Darkhan-Uul (19)


  • B BULGAN, incoming PhD student, Resources, Environment and Sustainability, UBC
  • Dr. Julian Dierkes, Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs
  • Dr. Marissa Smith, independent researcher

Below, you can find recordings of three presentations leading up to the election on June 2, 12, and 22.

Posted in Ikh Khural 2020 | Leave a comment

Voting with Enthusiasm

By Julian Dierkes

There was a lot of enthusiasm on display early on June 24 as the polls opened.

Expressions of enthusiasm built in part on the very active өглөө campaign that had been part of a bring-out-the-youth-vote effort.

The general aim to mobilize young voters was paired with a resurgent fashion interest in the deel that also ended up being much in evidence online.

Below is a gallery of some of my favourite posts from the day. I note that for some of these the origin of the photo and thus the identity of original photographers is unclar.

Posted in Curios, Ikh Khural 2020, Pop Culture, Social Media, Younger Mongolians | Tagged | Leave a comment

Vote Spreads

By Julian Dierkes

One of the big questions about the multi-member plurality voting system adopted for the parliamentary election was what the minimum number of votes would be to win a seat, especially since minimum thresholds had been abandoned this time in contrast to 2008.

So, let’s look at some winning candidates! I’m relying on Ikon.mn for data on votes as of 16h (Vancouver time) on June 24.

Percentage Shares

Prime Minister U Khurelsukh of the MPP won his seat with the highest percentage share of votes in Khentii. He won 72.2% in District 18.

At the far other end of the spectrum, the lowest share that won a seat was S Odontuya’s for the DP in Ulaanbaatar’s Bayangol (26) with 26.2%. Note that this means that every winning MP won with more than 25% which had been the threshold in 2008.

Absolute Numbers of Votes

Next, let’s think about the absolute number of votes candidates needed to win their seats. This is important as the overall distribution of seats was clearly weighted toward the less populous countryside where 52 of the total of 76 seats were up for grabs.

To return to the two winners above, Amarsaikhan won his large share of the vote with 25,356 votes while Odontuya needed over 27,000 votes to claim her much smaller share of votes. Startling!

The absolute lowest number of votes to win a seat was G Munkhtsetseg’s (MPP – Incumbent) 10,175 in Dundgovi, a share of over a third of the votes in that aimag.

The greatest absolute number of votes went to N Uchral (MPP – Incumbent) who received over 53,000 votes in Songinokhairkhan (28) representing almost two thirds. In Songinokhairkhan, G Munkhtsetseg’s votes would have placed her 8th (though that is obviously a flawed comparison).

In the most hotly contested Ulaanbaatar riding of Sukhbaatar (24) with its 38 candidates, the top eight finishers received more than 10,000 votes and the top 12 received more than 5,000 votes.

Dominance of Winning Candidates

Since voters do not express preferences but simply vote for multiple candidates, we are unable to tell the extent to which they mixed and matched. But since only ballots that included a vote for the numbers of seats available in that riding were valid, we can add percentages up and subtract them from 300 or 200 (depending on 2 or 3-MP ridings) to get a sense for how dominant the winning candidates were.

By this measure the three winning candidates in Khentii (18) were the most dominant among the three-MP districts winning a total of 184.7 of the possible 300% of votes. This was where PM Khurelsukh, his Cabinet Secretary Oyun-Erdene, and erstwhile wrestling champion, long-time MP and former presidential candidate Bat-Erdene were elected and easily brushed aside the challenge mounted by Bat-Uul who only placed 6th.

By contrast, the three winners in Sukhbaatar (24) only took 108.2/300 of the votes.

For the two-MP districts, the two winners in Dornogovi (8) garnered 121.8 of 200% of the votes, while those in Bayanzurkh (22) at the opposite end of the spectrum only received 75.4/200.

More to be analyzed regarding these numbers and shares.

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Women MPs

By Bulgan Batdorj

Mongolia’s 8th parliamentary election held on June 24, 2020. Despite the concerns over coronavirus pandemic, the voter turnout reached 68 percent. The election result shows 13 women out of 76 seats  – the exact same number of women parliamentarians in the 2016 election.

Women parliamentarians from the ruling Mongolian People’s Party are Davaajantsan Sarangerel, Khurelbaatar Bulgantuya, Baljinnyam Bayarsaikhan, Gompildoo Munkhtsetseg, Tserenjamts Munkhtsetseg, Chinbat Undram, Damdinsuren Unurbolor, Batsukh Saranchimeg, Munkhuu Oyunchimeg, Badarch Jargalmaa, Purev-Ochir Anujin and from the opposition Democratic Party,  Saldan Odontuya and Amgalan Adiyasuren.

Out of the 13 women parliamentarians, four are reelected and S Odontuya had been an MP in 2012-2016.  These numbers bring the total number of women parliamentarian to 44 and total number of seats to 63 in the past 28 years of democracy in Mongolia.

Election year Female MPs
1992 3
1996 7
2000 8
2004 5
2008 3
2012 11
2016 13
2020 13
Total 63

The average age of the incoming women MPs is 47, the youngest member is Ch Undram who is 37 years old while the oldest is S Odontuya.

Constituencies:  29 constituencies and 76 mandates,  8 of these women are elected from the capital city, and 5 are elected from rural districts.

Party Surname Given name Constituencies
MPP Davaajantsan Sarangerel Khan-Uul District, Ulaanbaatar
MPP Khurelbaatar Bulgantuya Bayanzurkh District, Ulaanbaatar
MPP Baljinnyam Bayarsaikhan Zavkhan
MPP Gompildoo Munkhtsetseg Dundgobi
MPP Tserenjamts Munkhtsetseg Sukhbaatar District, Ulaanbaatar
MPP Chinbat Undram Selenge
MPP Damdinsuren Unurbolor Selenge
MPP Batsukh Saranchimeg Bayanzurkh District, Ulaanbaatar
MPP Munkhuu Oyunchimeg Chingeltei District, Ulaanbaatar
MPP Badarch Jargalmaa Songinokhairkhan District, Ulaanbaatar
MPP Purev-Ochir Anujin Songinokhairkhan District, Ulaanbaatar
DP Saldan Odoltuya Bayangol District, Ulaanbaatar
DP Amgalan Adiyasuren Bayankhongor

In this election, 54.5% of the voters were women which is not unusual based on our previous knowledge. This year, the number of female candidates were 151 out of 606 candidates, making 24.9% – a slight reduction compared to the last election, where we had 25.9% of the candidates were women.

Gender quotas of 20% of candidates in the last three elections have helped the number to increase from single digit (2008 3 female MPs to 11 female MPs in 2012) to double-digit. Despite the less favourable electoral system of block voting, the number of women parliamentarians has not declined, somehow gives me hope that it is time to increase that gender quota to a higher percentage.

Another area of excitement I had around the election was the DEMOS party. This party had 75% of their 28 candidates women and the whole platform was on issues of women, gender equality, and mother and children.  Although the party did not win any seats (most candidates came in last or the last two spots) it is important to have gender equality in political representation.


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Zoom: Mongolia Campaign Update II

On June 22, we held another panel presentation/discussion about the 2020 parliamentary election campaign. The campaign will end shortly to take a daylong break before election day on June 24.

We provide a general update on the campaign, but will also focus on gender issues, education policy, anti-corruption proposals and the role of Facebook in the election.

Speakers include:

  • Dr. Marissa Smith, independent researcher
  • B BULGAN, incoming PhD student, Resources, Environment and Sustainability, UBC
  • Dr. Julian Dierkes, Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs
  • Dr. Robert Ritz,  PhD Candidate, Sociology, Ider University and Director, LETU Mongolian American University


In Outlook at the end of presentation, Julian Dierkes asked whether queues of people lined up to vote past 22h on June 24, would be allowed to do so and speculated that they would. That is not correct. The vote counting machines are programmed to shut down as of 22h.

Below, you can find recordings of the two previous sessions, on June 2 and June 12.

Posted in Education, Gender, Ikh Khural 2020, Party Politics, Social Media | Leave a comment

Comparing 2008 and 2020 Elections

By Byambajav Dalaibuyan

The 2008 parliamentary election had some features resembling the current election.

Election systems

A multi-member majoritarian or block voting system was used in 2008. Compared to single-member, majoritarian systems, this system requires candidates to run campaigns in much larger election districts and reach twice or thrice more voters. So, the established parties with institutional and financial capacity have a crucial advantage. New candidates or parties need to have the capacity to compete with them by their social popularity, financial capacity and concerted action of their supporters. In 2008, 56 of 76 seats or mandates were allocated to rural regions while only 20 were in the capital city. In 2020, rural and capital city ratio is 52:24.

In 2008, new and small political parties were not able to establish strong coalitions to counterbalance the power of the two established parties. While they expressed similar views against the established parties their divisions likely led to the spread of the vote among them. in 2020, we will likely see similar trends of vote distribution among new and small political parties despite their efforts to coalesce.

In 2008, each voter could choose as many candidates in the election district as the number of mandates or seats allocated in the election district. So, for example, a voter could choose only one candidate even tough the election district had two or more mandates. In 2020, each voter must choose the same number of candidates as the number of allocated mandates in the election district. If a voter chooses less or more candidates than the mandate in the election district the ballot will be invalid. This can result much closer election results in many election districts compared to 2008.

It was sufficient for a candidate to ask voters to vote only for him/her in 2008. This tactic is not enough in 2020. Though candidates from one party and coalition are campaigning together and calling for voting for them as a team there are alleged covert campaign tactics of some candidates that encourage voters to choose only them and give one or two other votes to candidates from other parties, preferably unpopular candidates.

There was a 25% threshold in 2008. If candidates who received a plurality of votes cannot pass the 25% threshold of votes they needed to compete in a second-round. In 2020, no threshold is required by law. Unless votes are extremely spread among candidates, 25% will not be hard to pass.

Public attitude

Many popular movements demanding political accountability and social justice had emerged since 2005 and their activities attracted public support in the 2008 election. Many of the movement leaders ran in the 2008 parliamentary election as leaders of a new party or as independents. Political instability and corruption scandals in 2004-2008 motivated many people to run for seats in the parliament. Of the total of 356 candidates, 311 were from 12 parties and one coalition, and 45 were independents.

According to Sant Maral’s Politbarometer polls, about 15% of voters were willing to commit their vote to third parties and independents in May, 2008.

In 2020, 606 candidates are running; 13 political parties, 4 coalitions, and independents. Like 2008, a series of corruption scandals and declining trust in the competence and integrity of incumbents motivated many people to run for the parliament election as party members or independents. As Sant Maral’s Politbarometer poll in March 2020 did not include questions on elections and parties, I looked at the poll of March, 2019. Third parties and independents had about 17% of voter’s support, which was higher than that of MPP and DP. Some political decisions ahead of elections may have positively affected MPP’s ratings since 2019.  That can also be true for DP and third parties.

“If parliament elections were held tomorrow, which party would you vote for?”

Year.Month MPP DP Third parties Independent
2008.V 25.5 24.8 8.4 6.9
2019.III 14.7 11.4 12.6 4.7

The poll results seem to reflect social enthusiasm built around the popular movements in 2008 and positive public perception of the maturity of third parties ahead of the 2020 elections.

Furthermore, in 2008, the number of people who expressed their support for one party was nearly twice higher than 2020, which means that the two established parties lost a significant number of loyal supporters in the last decade.

People who favour one certain party

Year. Month Ulaanbaatar Rural Nationwide
2008.V 42.8 54.8 49.8
2019.III 23.5 28.3 26.1

“The favourite one” party

Year. Month MPP DP Other NA
2008.V 24.4 20.2 5.7 49.7
2019.III 11.4 8.8 5.9 73.9

On top of that, public trust in political parties in 2020 is nearly twice lower than 2008.  Even in rural regions where public trust in the two established parties dropped to 13.5% in 2020.

In your opinion, do political parties represent public opinion? % of “No”

Year. Month Rural Ulaanbaatar Nationwide
2008.V 30.4 18.9 25.8
2020.V 13.5 12.4 13

And, frustration built around social injustice is much stronger in 2020 than 2008.

In general, is there more justice or more injustice in our society? % of “more injustice”

Year. Month Rural Ulaanbaatar Nationwide
2008.V 72.7 71.8 72.3
2020.V 79.1 81.5 80.2

Social injustice is frequently being described nowadays and discussed as a consequence of corrupt political institutions and politicians. It is reported by various polls that voters are increasingly inclined to vote for clean, new and competent politicians.

However, it is notable that the results of the 2008 election did not reflect the social enthusiasm for political reform. The MPP won 45 seats and the DP won 28 seats. Civil Will-Green Party won 2 seats and only one independent candidate could win a seat. All three candidates were popular and respected public figures. Leaders of popular movements were not able to gain significant votes and ranked far below than candidates from the established parties.

Unlike 2008, much more concerted and random endorsement campaigns for new, competent, and clean politicians through social media platforms and on the ground may help to attract more votes in 2020.

Election administration

The administration of elections has improved since 2008. Manual ballot counting has been replaced by electronic counting. Domestic independent observers were not allowed in 2008, but now they participate in a range of monitoring activities.

Importantly, the accuracy and integrity of voter list was a major issue in 2008.  The Election law allowed voting stations to assign up to 2000 to the list for any single election sub-district. The election lists provided by GEC were often incorrect and fluctuated up to 20% when checked against registration information at election district committees. The accuracy and integrity of voter registration and list have improved much in the last the decade. Voter registration information can be checked online, by independent monitoring and at voting stations. Though covert voter movements between election districts and irregularities in the voters’ list are still reported in 2020 their magnitude seems to be not as serious as that of 2008.

Posted in Byambajav Dalaibuyan, Democracy, Elections, Ikh Khural 2020, Party Politics, Politics, Public Opinion | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: The Effects of Vote-Buying in Mongolia

By Johann Fuhrmann and Max Duckstein

As we get closer to election day, the topic of vote-buying is increasingly coming up in daily conversations in Mongolia. Despite anecdotal evidence of vote-buying being widespread, statistically informed knowledge about the extent of the problem is often lacking. But to understand the dimensions of the phenomenon requires an analytical differentiation: bribes or gifts by political parties or candidates do not necessarily imply a significant influence on the voters’ decision-making process. While the impact of accepted bribes is hard to exactly quantify, surveys offer the possibility to learn more about their effects.

Especially when so-called “ballot selfies” or pre-filled ballot papers are not used, the pay-off of the voting incentives is hard to estimate, even for the briber. Asking people directly if they received gifts or monetary incentives from political parties or candidates in the past and how this influenced them in their decision-making is a limited but worthy option for exploring these cases. A study was commissioned last year by the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation to survey this interaction. 1,400 randomly-sampled inhabitants of Bayanzurkh, Bayangol, Chingeltei, and Nalaikh districts in Ulaanbaatar and 600 randomly-sampled people from Uvs and Dundgobi Aimag were interviewed.

Much ado about (almost) nothing?

One of the most surprising results of the study is that only 3.3 percent of the rural and only 8 percent of the interviewees from UB stated that they received any form of gifts during the 2016 parliamentary elections! This includes cash, food, or any other form of gifts. While cash makes up for by far the most of the received donations, other handouts include pastries, rice, and everyday items like kettles or clocks. Cash handouts were usually between 10,000 and 50,000 MNT and were sometimes combined with other forms of presents. The apparent relative insignificance of the phenomenon matches common anecdotal evidence which usually places the target group of these (non-)monetary transfers inside specific disadvantaged socio-economic groups. Or, to put it differently, hoping to influence someone’s intended vote by gifting them 10,000 to 50,000 MNT requires low assumptions on the recipient’s economic situation. Attempting to buy a larger percentage of votes therefore would not only require more single payments but also larger individual sums if we assume that the poorest part of the population is usually being targeted.

Not surprisingly, the majority of gifts were given in the weeks leading up to the election. The low percentage of after-election gifts might be explained by “if I win, you get something” schemes.

Which parties are involved?

While both major parties seem to have been involved in the practice, the MPP is clearly on top. Although it has to be mentioned that the DP was distributing more voting incentives in the countryside than in the capital.

The fact that nearly 60 percent of respondents knowingly received gifts from the MPP might have a simple explanation though: The MPP had and has by far the most effective and centralized party structure in Mongolia. Since vote-buying is illegal in Mongolia, parties have to organize it covertly. The money or non-monetary gifts have to be raised, stored, and distributed. Furthermore, local aides have to identify potential recipients and avoid law enforcement. Besides these obvious logistical hurdles, parties also have to ensure that the cash that is meant to be handed out is not being pocketed by party members themselves. The constraints that are being dictated by the secretive nature of the endeavour favour highly centralized and more effectively organized parties. Small parties like the MPRP usually neither have the structure to carry out vote-buying on a larger scale nor do they see any usefulness in it. The direct election system that is in place since 2016 limited the most promising candidates in the overwhelming majority of the voting districts to the two major parties. That nearly 15 percent of the respondents cannot tell the political affiliation of the person who gifted them is at least curious.

How effective is vote-buying?

To measure the effectiveness represents the biggest challenge. First, recipients of gifts might not realize themselves if these handouts affect their voting behaviour or they might rationalize these gifts. Second, possible social stigma ascribed to “selling one’s vote” may shame respondents into downplaying the transactional dimension of the gifts. But these are problems that any interpretation of an empirical study has to deal with.

While nearly 8.9 percent of the recipients thought that their vote was “bought” 6.3 percent reported that the attempt to buy their vote had the opposite effect on them. While one should not take these numbers at face value they indicate a trend: Most people receiving gifts do not seem to interpret them as a binding reciprocal agreement. Since “booth selfies” or pre-filled ballot papers are so far not a common practice in Mongolia this evaluation seems to be correct. The practice seemed to have only a marginal direct influence on the last parliamentary elections.


No question, (attempted) vote-buying is harmful to any democracy. It undermines trust in the integrity of the election process. It might also swing districts during close races. This kind of electoral fraud and its effects will remain murky to understand at best. But one should not underestimate the agency of voters to remain sovereign actors. An interesting subject for future studies remains if vote-buying might be primarily used to foster supporter mobilization or voter turnout.

Note: The study discussed in this article was completed in September-November 2019 by SICA LLC (www.sica.mn/en) funded by Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation.

About Johann Fuhrmann and Max Duckstein

Johann Fuhrmann heads the office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation in Mongolia. Prior to that, he was Head of Growth and Innovation at the Economic Council (Wirtschaftsrat der CDU). As a scholarship holder of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation he obtained his Master’s degree (MSc.) in International Relations at the London School of Economics.

Max Duckstein is Senior Policy Analyst at the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation’s office in Mongolia. He obtained his Master’s degree (M.A.) in Sociology at Bielefeld University. As a scholarship holder of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) he spent a semester in Russia as visiting researcher at Saint Petersburg State University.

Posted in Democracy, Elections, Ikh Khural 2016, Ikh Khural 2020, Johann Fuhrmann, Law, Max Duckstein, Morals, Party Politics, Politics | Leave a comment

Parliamentary Election 2020 Campaign Slogans

By Bulgan Batdorj 

In this brief post, I want to share the slogans of the parties competing in this year’s parliamentary election on June 24.  I was able to find seven party and three coalition slogans.

Although the data is not huge, I ran a word cloud query. The word “win” came out as the only repeated word, however, the notion of “development” appeared to be a theme if I generalized the texts into stemmed words in English.  Aside from this technical query, the notions of these slogans, such as “clean the government”, “ger district will win”, “justice will win”, and “abide by the constitution” seem to be rooted in the growing sense of injustice felt in the wider society – as mentioned as a big theme in Dr. Julian Dierkes’s first session of the election preview. 

Two specific issue-centered slogans are the “Your voice can protect the environment” by the Green Party and the “MOM” or ЭЭЖ slogan which focuses on women, gender, and mother and child issues by the Demos Party. The Ger District Development Party also strictly focuses on ger district, and the slogan lengthens in some of the meetings to “Ger District will Win, Ger District will Develop”.

Compilations of the slogan:

  1. Mongolian People’s Party  [Монгол Ардын Нам]- “Unite the Force”  (Хүчээ нэгтгэе)
  2. Mongolian Democratic Party [Ардчилсан Нам]- “Growth for each household” (Өсөлтийг Өрх Бүрд)
  3. United Patriots Party [Эх орончдын нэгдсэн нам] – “Clean the government, Prosper the people” (Төрөө цэгцэлнэ, Түмнээ дэвжээнэ)
  4. Demos Party [Зон олны нам] – ЭЭЖ (means MOM) abbreviation used for Women (эмэгтэйчүүд), Mother and Child (эх хүүхдүүд), and Gender (жендэр)
  5. World Mongols Party [Дэлхийн монголчууд нам] – “For Every Citizen”(Иргэн Бүрийн төлөө)
  6. Mongolian Green Party [Монголын Ногоон нам] – “Your voice can protect the environment” (Таны дуу хоолой байгалийг хамгаалж чадна”
  7. Ger District Development Party [Гэр хороолол хөгжлийн нам] – “Ger District will win” (Гэр хороолол ялна)


  1. Sahigtun! Constitution 19 Coalition: “For Mongolia Abide by the constitution” (Монголын төлөө үндсэн хуулиа сахигтун)
  2. New Coaltion [Шинэ эвсэл] – “Justice will win”  (Шудрага ёс ялна)
  3. Right Person Electorate Coalition [Зөв хүн электорат]- “Only the right person” (Зөвхөн зөв хүн)  #ЗөвХүн
Posted in Ikh Khural 2020, Party Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Active but Unrepresented Players – Women’s Political Engagement in Comparative Perspective

By Camille Barras

A demographic analysis of candidates to the 2020 Ikh Khural elections has unveiled a low share of women among candidates – just over the 20% legal quota for the two main parties and about 14% only among independents – with the notable exception of the Demos Party. The percentage of female candidates therewith appears to be even smaller than for the previous election.

By contrast, we also know that women vote at a considerably higher rate than men in Mongolia, and this across the country. How to explain this chasm between female political participation and representation? Survey data can shed light on how Mongolia compares to other countries and generate some insights into this question.

High female political engagement beyond voting…

First of all, not only do Mongolian women turn out at the polls more than men, they are also systematically more active with regards to other forms of political participation such as attending campaign meetings, as Graph 1 shows. This seems quite unique, if looking at the same data (Asian Barometer Survey Wave 4, 2014) for other Asian countries (men outdo women for most of these indicators throughout the region), but also when considering wider international evidence of a remaining “traditional” gender gap for political actions others than voting.

[Graph 1]

The picture slightly changes for political information and discussion. While 53.3% Mongolian men follow news several times a week or more and 76.8% discuss politics at least occasionally, only 47.5% and 72.9%, respectively, of women do so (Asian Barometer Survey Wave 4). For these indicators, Mongolia does no longer have the lead in gender equality in the Asian region. (As an aside, similar comparisons could be done with countries from the post-communist area using the Life in Transition Survey).

Similarly, compared to men, women have lower levels of political interest, political efficacy (sense that one can have an influence on what the government does), and further political attitudes, but higher trust (Graph 2). This is in line with findings from much of the world. Gender differences nevertheless appear to be relatively small (the largest is 5 percentage points for political interest) and, by and large, minimal compared to most other Asian countries.

[Graph 2]

… but prevailing gender bias with regard to women in politics

However, figures about gender norms stand in sharp contrast with Mongolia’s quite exceptional rate of political participation (at large) among women and relatively small gender differences in political attitudes. More than a third (36%) of men agree or strongly agree that “women should not be involved in politics as much as men” – while 28% of women do so. These values are among the highest in the Asian region (see Graph 3). Interestingly, the discrepancy between men and women also seems larger than elsewhere, hinting at a potential polarization between genders around this issue.

[Graph 3]

In other words, despite women being more politically active in practice, politics is still seen by many as the (exclusive) realm of men. This gap between behaviours and norms is common in many countries but appears as particularly glaring in Mongolia’s case.

There is little doubt that this prevailing gender bias regarding women’s involvement in politics is one of the major barriers (yet not the only one) underlying the low, and decreasing, female political representation in Mongolia. It is likely to affect both the nomination and election of women, that is, to play a role both within political parties and in voters’ minds at the polls. In 2016, 26% of candidates from parties and 19% independents were women according to this report. The share of women dropped further at the election stage. Women make up 17% of representatives in the current Ikh Khural –  thereby placing Mongolia 122th out of 189 countries on the IPU ranking – and between 15.7% (aimags) and 28.2% (districts) in subnational khurals. With women candidates being even more scarce on the 2020 lists, will the share of elected women reach 2016’s level?

Can participation translate into representation?

Yet we can wonder whether women’s high political engagement could have any effect on women’s political representation.

Looking at the aggregate level, UB constituencies, where the reverse gender gap in voter turnout was highest in 2016, represent 36.8% of parliamentary seats but 61.5% of women MPs (8 out of 13 female MPs were elected from UB districts). There is also a positive association between the gender turnout gap (in national elections) and the share of women elected into Citizens’ Representative Khurals at the subnational level in 2016.

Of course, this is an extrapolation and should be interpreted with caution. The relationship may also be spurious: in some electoral districts, women may vote more and stand higher chances to be elected for some other reason; or perhaps political parties field more women candidates where female turnout is higher? It would be interesting to compare, in the future, female turnout and electoral success taking into account the number of women candidates for the 2020 elections.

At any rate the singularly high political participation of women in Mongolia might represent an interesting potential to tap into for female candidates. From previous studies elsewhere it seems that women may well prefer voting for women (and men for men), but that this hinges on a number of contextual factors, notably on the electoral system and gender balance of candidates.

It could also depend on the extent to which female candidates play the “women card” – in other words, whether they run their campaign explicitly promoting themselves as representing women, advocating for women-specific issues and / or calling for women’s support. Lastly, the generational shift among voters, with the arrival of high numbers of (male and female) young voters with potentially different mindsets and gender norms, is a further key element to consider in this regard – even more so if youth’s voter turnout were to increase.

About Camille Barras

Camille is a PhD candidate in Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on subnational governance and political engagement. Before that, she worked in International Development, and lived in Mongolia for her last posting.

Posted in Camille Barras, Democracy, Demography, Elections, Gender, Ikh Khural 2016, Ikh Khural 2020, Presidential 2017 | Leave a comment

Campaign Strategies under Bloc Voting

By Julian Dierkes

One of the great puzzles of the Mongolian electoral system choice of multi-member pluralities is how to run a strategic campaign for a party. If I imagined myself to be a campaign operator, what would I do?

Some of the questions I would ask is:

  • For the party, winning a majority is clearly a priority, but for a candidate, s/he will prioritize winning the seat they’re running for.
  • How does the party prioritize campaign resources between districts? What about candidates in the same district, especially in the case of the MPP and DP which are running full slates of 76 candidates, but even for the New Coalition and Our Coalition which are running nearly full slates.
  • Do you prioritize national campaign themes by the extent to which they play in certain districts, perhaps districts that you have classified as winnable?
  • What does winnable mean in that case? A sweep of a given district?

Such strategic calculations are of particular interest when comparing the two established parties, the DP and MPP. As always, the MPP is assumed to have more of a central party infrastructure. This is reinforced by the sense that the list of candidates nominated for the MPP looks largely like a list chosen by PM Khurelsukh, thus asserting his control of the party as party chair. The early impression of the MPP campaign online reinforces the impression that this is a campaign that has some elements of being centrally run for the MPP. By contrast, the DP is less visible online, party chair S Erdene does not seem to be campaigning with candidates in districts as visibly as Khurelsukh, suggesting a less centrally-controlled campaign.

DP Strategy

Under party chair S Erdene, the DP has struggled with internal schisms, especially the spin-off New Party under former DP MPs Lu Bold and J Batzandan. Other prominent former DP leaders have decided to run as independents, for example, former PM N Altankhuyag running in Erdenet. So, the DP looks fractious overall.

There are two strategic decisions that the DP has made that may provide an example of trying to think through what party strategy might look like under this electoral system.

R Amarjargal as Shadow Prime Minister

On June 15, party chair S Erdene announced that R Amarjargal would be prime minister under a DP majority. As that majority seems fairly unlikely by all observers’ accounts, this must be largely a campaign move aimed at increasing voter share.

Recently, party chair Erdene re-tweeted this seemingly innocuous tweet by Amarjargal:

He following this up with the following on June 15:

Amarjargal Himself

Who is Amarjargal? Born in 1961, he was educated in the Soviet Union as an economist, an education he reinforced with a Master’s in the UK. He joined the democratic movement early on [from the start – as a leader of the economist group, which became the Mongolian New Progressive Party in 1990 and merged with the DP in 1992]. He was elected to parliament in 1996 and played a prominent role in that session dominated by the turbulent succession of various governments led by forces that later merged to form the DP. He served as Prime Minister at the end of that parliament from summer 1999 until the electoral defeat in 2000. Despite his role in the merger to form the DP, he has been at odds with the party at various times. He was thus re-elected to parliament as an independent in 2004. He won election in 2008 and 2012, but stepped aside as a candidate in 2016, ostensibly to make room for more women to run. He had also been a contender for the nomination as a presidential candidate for the DP in 2017.

He has been continuously visible in the public and styles himself somewhat of a gadfly to the DP establishment, pointing to his economist credentials as a source of legitimacy. It thus certainly surprised me that he chose to let himself be nominated for the DP in this election, and in the very competitive Sukhbaatar district of Ulaanbaatar no less where he is competing with 37 other candidates for three seats. Those candidates include:

  • For the MPP: current Foreign Minister D Tsogtbaatar, former Foreign Minister Ts Munkh-Orgil and Ts Munkhtsetseg, a prominent political scientist who teaches at the Mongolian State Univ of Education.
  • For the DP in addition to Amarjargal: S Erdenebold and E Dolgion
  • Other parties and coalitions have also nominated somewhat prominent candidates for this riding.

The announcement by the DP surely bolsters Amargjargal chances at being elected from this fray of candidates in the city centre of Ulaanbaatar. In terms of experience, he certainly has much to offer (past Foreign Minister, past Prime Minister) even compared to the MPP candidates.

The DP

But, presumably, this announcement was made to benefit the DP at large, not just to bolster Amarjargal’s campaign. Of course, he might have insisted on this nomination in any kind of negotiation about his candidacy he might have had with party chair Erdene, but we will not know about that. Perhaps it is more likely that Erdene and DP general secretary Baatarkhuu actively recruited Amarjargal. That nomination could also hold if Amarjargal does not win his seat in the election as a prime minister does not have to be an MP, as has been the case with MPP party chair Khurelsukh (see below for some of the dynamics of his candidacy).

So, what is the electoral calculus here? Given Amarjargal’s reputation as staying above the DP’s factional fights and thus as a bit of an outsider to the DP establishment is the hope that his nomination takes the DP out of the MAHAH-perception of a corrupt duopoly of power? But under what condition will that sway a voter in a different electoral district? That of course is the fundamental challenge to a party campaign in a majoritarian electoral system, only compounded by the multi-member aspect.

So, let us assume a neighbouring district like Songinokhairkhan in Ulaanbaatar where the DP might be in contention. Take District 27, two seats to be elected. The DP candidates here are Kyokushuzan and B Punsalmaa. For the announcement of Amarjargal to make sense as a party campaign move, there must be the assumption that some voters are more likely to vote for DP candidates like Kyokushuzan or Punsalmaa than they would have been without this announcement? I suppose as long as there is some certainty or at least a greater likelihood that this announcement at least does no harm with voters, than any slight edge could be an asset, especially in the urban districts where the votes might be split so many ways and total number of votes at the margin might decide over many seats. Perhaps we will know a bit more about the party strategy by watching whether Amarjargal will be campaigning for other candidates in the remaining days of the campaign.

While Khurelsukh may be campaigning primarily on the past effectiveness of his government, Amarjargal as a designated candidate for Prime Minister is probably much more competitive in this regard than many of the DP grandees otherwise. Some voices have called for an election debate between Khurelsukh and Amarjargal which would be fascinating to see as they may try to portray themselves with comparable credentials. An interesting side note to that is that Amarjargal was Khurelsukh’s economics professor at the Military Academy.

This is how a DP supporter sees Amarjargal as a challenger to Khurelsukh as well:

Bat-Uul as Challenger to Khurelsukh

E Bat-Uul is one of the remaining “golden swallows”, the original democracy activists who were involved in the revolution in the winter of 1989/90. As such he was awarded his status as Hero of Mongolia on the 30th anniversary of the revolution by then-Pres. Elbegdorj. I remember this particularly vividly as I happened to be at a gathering of democratic partisans as a guest on the evening of the ceremony. Bat-Uul joined the event and was feted like a true Hero of Mongolia. He was elected as a DP member of parliament in 1996, 2004, and 2008 and served as mayor of Ulaanbaatar from 2012 to 2016. The only blemish on this political resume is that his son, Chuluudai, was named in the 2016 Panama Papers (something he shares with the above-mentioned Kyokushuzan). It was a bit of a surprise that he was interested in being nominated by the DP in this parliamentary election since he had been at odds with parts of the DP leadership for some time. The greater surprise yet, was that he was nominated for Khentii (electoral district 18) where he will be facing off against the formidable MPP triumvirate of PM U Khurelsukh (previously not an MP), his Cabinet Secretary L Oyun-Erdene, and former presidential candidate (2013) B Bat-Erdene.

Bat-Uul Himself

Maybe he was itching for a political showdown? I cannot imagine that he thought that election in Khentii would be easy. Yes, Khentii has been a stronghold for the DP in the past. And, Bat-Uul’s father, Erdene, was a prominent writer from Binder, Khentii, particularly well-respected among Buriats and Mongols. But, will this add up to a chance against these candidates?

The DP

I have to admit that I know little about the other two DP candidates, J Oyunbaatar, and T Purevkhatan. But, for the DP, even threatening PM Khurelsukh’s election has to be a strategic goal. And the number of DP members who would at least have a chance at threatening Khurelsukh or the other two MPP candidates is probably quite limited.

In contrast to Amarjargal, Bat-Uul’s nomination in Khentii may carry less significance for “neighbouring” candidates, but that as well will be a bit clearer if we see him supporting other candidates in the election.


Note that I am simply trying to puzzle out some strategic choices from an informed outsider’s perspective, I do not have any specific insider information on either of the decisions above and suspect that most DP movers and shakers would point to several different aspects of my musings that seem uninformed and wrong to them.

Posted in Democratic Party, Elections, Ikh Khural 2020, Mongolian People's Party, Party Politics, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Electoral District Demographic Analysis

By Robert Ritz

The current election saw a switch back to the block voting system used in 1992 and 2008. This system has both positives and negatives, and this system has much larger election districts than the previous single-member districts of the 2016 election. This allows us to more easily analyze the districts with the available data.

To put all of the data together and make it user friendly, I built Songolt, an interactive data explorer that allows the reader to see key indicators of election districts. The indicators covered in the app include:

  • Population indicators: population, household size, herder percent, age group breakdown
  • Economic indicators (self-reported): salary, household loans, employment, education levels
  • Quality of life indicators: crime, house type, toilet & water type, heating type

The data was collected from 1212.mn and also the Household Socioeconomic Survey of 2016, which is the latest survey that contains precise geographic labeling. Both data sources are maintained by the National Statistics Office of Mongolia.

Several themes developed through my research into this data. These themes are perhaps not surprising for many readers familiar with Mongolia, but it is never a bad thing to back up observations with data. I encourage you, the reader, to explore the app yourself (link), but below I give an overview of the themes for your convenience.

Ulaanbaatar vs Countryside

Perhaps the best-known difference in Mongolia is that of Ulaanbaatar and the countryside. The image of busy urban Ulaanbaatar juxtaposed with the bucolic countryside could hardly be more different. Indeed the data shows significant differences in many areas. Let’s compare the population pyramid for the election district with the highest population, Songinokhairkhan District in Ulaanbaatar, with the least populace, Bulgan Aimag.

There is an obvious population difference, but the size of the age groups also shows a marked difference between the two. Where you have a large spike in the 20–40 age group in Songinokhairkhan, Bulgans’ age groups have much less variability and are quite flat from 15–50. You will see a similar trend in the highest population election districts compared with the least populated ones.

This means the voting demographics in rural areas are more widely distributed than in urban areas. D.Byambjav and E.Gerelt-Od previously discussed the large and less engaged block of voters under 35. If youth engagement initiatives are successful, this block of voters will be less powerful in rural districts that have a similar age distribution to Bulgan.

Employment differs significantly as well between Ulaanbaatar and most rural districts. Rural election districts tend to show significantly higher rates of overall employment than the urban ones. In the chart above, the “employed percentage” refers to the proportion of the working-age population that is employed. Urban districts tend to have between 45–55% employment, with rural districts between 65–75%.

Salaries are also significantly higher in Ulaanbaatar. The salaries shown above are self-reported from 2016, but they show a very clear picture. Employment levels may be higher in rural areas, but salary levels are conversely lower. This is an obvious area where the economic policy of the party platforms could address these inequalities.

Outliers: Mining Areas and Bayan-Ulgii

The Ulaanbaatar vs countryside theme may be the biggest theme in the data, it doesn’t give the full picture. There are two sets of outliers that “buck the trend”.

The first is that the two primary mining areas of Mongolia, Erdenet (in Orkhon) and Oyu Toloig (in Umnugovi), show significantly higher salaries, lower loan rates, and higher educations than other rural election districts.

This bubble plot shows the percent of households with loans vs monthly average salaries in each election district. The two highlighted in red are Orkhon (lower right) and Umnugovi (upper left). All of the bubbles above 550k average monthly salary except for the two in red are located in Ulaanbaatar.

These two election districts (and the urban workforce where the company offices are) have benefited heavily from the mining industry of Mongolia. Industrialization as proposed in the party platforms would most likely further benefit these areas, as this is where the raw materials would come from.

The second outlier is Bayan-Ulgii. In the chart above, the red bubble to the farthest left is Bayan-Ulgii, and the red bubble on the far right is Khan-Uul District. The average household size is 5.2, significantly larger than the most populace district Songinokhairkhan of 3.8. Besides larger family sizes, Bayan-Ulgii has the lowest average monthly salary.

Ulaanbaatar Districts Have Diverse Needs

The districts of Ulaanbaatar also show diverse needs. Every district also contains part of the ger district. This means that there is a mix of urban and peri-urban in every election district of Ulaanbaatar. In the center of the city, households are connected to the central water, heating, and sewage systems. In the ger district, living standards become sharply different, with no central heat or water connections.

The unique layout of the city districts ensures that at least 20% of the population of each district uses pit toilets and wood or coal for heat. More than 40% of Khan-Uul district households, the most affluent election district in Mongolia, use ordinary wood and coal stoves for heat.

MPs Will Represent Very Diverse Groups

Regardless of the outcome of the election, it is clear that the needs of citizens in election districts are not uniform, and even the common trope of UB vs the rest doesn’t hold up completely. Even though Mongolia a small country with a heavy focus on mining, it isn’t clear that the party platforms address the inequalities mentioned above.

While the economics platforms of the DP, MPP, and Right Person Electorate all focus on heavy industry, it isn’t clear how heavy industry would help rural areas outside of the main mining areas lacking in high paying jobs, or whether it would increase employment levels in Ulaanbaatar.

About Robert Ritz

Robert Ritz is an educator and data scientist. He is the Director of LETU Mongolia American University, Mongolia’s only 100% English business school. He also created Mongolian Data Stories and tweets @robertritz88

Posted in Countryside, Demography, Employment, Ikh Khural 2020, Inequality, Infrastructure, Mining, Population, Robert Ritz, Social Issues, Ulaanbaatar | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Women’s Voter Turnout – Substantial Reverse Gender Gap

By Camille Barras 

Previous posts in Mongolia Focus have addressed the issue of women’s political representation, for example concerning the share of candidates in the upcoming elections. Women’s participation as voters is another important facet of women political empowerment. In a post about the 2016 and 2017 elections, Julian Dierkes observed that the number of women voters exceeded men’s in nearly all aimags and districts. Was this just a demographic effect (there are indeed more women than men in the age categories 30-34 and beyond)?

Not only, according to NSO statistics: women’s voter turnout (# voters / # registered voters) was actually higher than men’s by 6 percentage points on average in the 2016 parliamentary election. Estimating voter turnout by gender for each electoral district (see Table 1, estimates for 2016), it appears that this reverse gender gap exists across all electoral districts and holds for several elections, namely the 2016 parliamentary election, and the first round and runoff of the 2017 presidential election (with the exception of Bayan-Ulgii in the two presidential election rounds).

Electoral district – 2016 parliamentary elections

 Gender gap (female-male)

 Female turnout

 Male turnout





 Sukhbaatar (aimag)




















































































 Khan-Uul+ Bagakhangai




 Nalaikh + Chingeltei




 Baganuur + Sukhbaatar (district)












[Table 1. Voter turnout estimate: number of (wo)men voters in electoral district / (total registered voters for both genders in district *share of (wo)men in elect. district in year of election) (data: GEC/NSO).]

Reverse gender gap in voter turnout not unique, but sizable

Such “reverse” gender gaps in voter turnout are not exceptional, as in many countries women vote as much or more than men since several decades now – studies notably point out that women have a stronger sense of “civic duty”. Yet the size of the difference in Mongolia seems quite large in international comparison. Also, a hint that this gender gap might even hold in local elections (female turnout in Songinokhairkhan district: 49.4%; male: 41.7%) is rather at odds with evidence that a traditional gender gap (that is, higher male voter turnout) still subsists in subnational elections in other countries.

Why is that the case? While a comprehensive and accurate answer would require further research, it can be said that Mongolia is relatively closer to (but still far from!) gender parity on global average in regard to a number of “structural” indicators that are usually thought to matter as factors of political participation. Going with WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report from the year of the last elections, Mongolia fares indeed better comparatively in terms of economic opportunity but also educational achievement (female/male ratio for labour force participation: 0.84; for income: 0.74; for enrolment in tertiary education: 1.38).

Within-country variation of reverse gender gap

The size of the reverse gender gap varies substantially between constituencies. Eastern and Western aimags have a smaller gap (that is, they are more “equal”) – a pattern consistent across elections, as evident from the maps below. The gap is larger in urban areas (UB districts and secondary cities) and almost reaches 13 percentage points in Darkhan-Uul. It also seems that men’s voter turnout (64% to 86%) has a wider range than women’s (77% to 89%) (2016 election). Places with a smaller gender gap, such as Bayan-Ulgii, actually tend to have a high male turnout rate, rather than low female participation.




[Gender gap based on voter turnout estimates (GEC/NSO)]

The reasons behind these differences between electoral districts in Mongolia are hard to elicit due to lack of data. Rough preliminary analyses limited to socio-economic indicators do not support that either gender differences in education nor workforce integration are at play. A glance at the aimags with the lowest and highest gender gaps in turnout (Table 2) suggests that the gender gap might mainly come from differences in men’s turnout– perhaps logics of (male voters’) mobilization differ across aimags?

Voter turnout (estimates)

Average of 2016 parliamentary elections and 2017 presidential elections (2 rounds)

Gender gap (female-male)



3 aimags with lowest gender gap (Bayan-Ulgii, Khovd, Sukhbaatar)




3 aimags with highest gender gap (Darkhan-Uul, Govisumber, Uvurkhangai)




[Table 2]

Will this reverse gender gap persist – and to a similar extent – in the 2020 elections, and beyond? The female-male ratio among registered voters for the upcoming election (52% – 48%) looks identical to what it was in 2016 (which had an estimated 1,003,500 registered female voters and 934,400 male voters). Given the size of the gap in voter turnout and its consistency across elections (2016 parliamentary, 2017 presidential and probably 2016 aimag and soum-level elections), it is quite plausible that this is a structural trend that will hold on the long run. It would nevertheless be worth looking at how the gap has changed in different electoral districts and whether the difference between urban and rural areas has widened or narrowed.

About Camille Barras

Camille is a PhD candidate in Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on subnational governance and political engagement. Before that, she worked in International Development, and lived in Mongolia for her last posting.

Posted in Camille Barras, Demography, Elections, Gender, Ikh Khural 2016, Ikh Khural 2020, Presidential 2017 | Leave a comment