Guest Post: Spirituality and Wisdom Cherished by “The Legend of the Shaman”


I know one researcher, a woman from Europa who researches shamanism and admires the magic of Mongolian shamans. She says that her life has changed dramatically after become a researcher and every summer she comes to Mongolia, staying in a shaman’s ger and doing meditation and performing shaman’s rituals.

But I’m not going to talk about her, I’m going write about an author and his novel which depicts shamanic phenomenal things.

During a journey to Buryatia, Ayurzana met Tseren shaman who was well-known in a community of ethnic Buryats in Russia. That is how Ayurzana was unexpectedly struck with the motif of his novel “The Legend of the Shaman”, remarkable works inspired by shamanic spiritual power.

AYURZANA Gun-Aajav poet, fiction/nonfiction writer, is a graduate of the Maxim Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow. He has published seven books of poetry, two collections of short stories, several non-fiction books and novels. Ayurzana’s poems have been translated and published in more than 30 languages including Hungarian, Serbian, Macedonian, Turkish and Maltese. “The Wing of Dying Bird” (“Амь тавьж буй шувууны далавч”) and “The Legend of the Shaman” (“Бөөгийн домог”) in Korean translation called big resonance between readers as if “The Debt of Ten Dreams” (“Арван зүүдний өр”) in Russian translation.

His most recent novels “Mysteries of Sacred Khangai Mountains” (Сахиуст хангайн нууц. 2017) and “Spirit Formula ” (Сүнсний томьёо.2019) are continuing the atmosphere of his previous novels like “Shugden” (Шүгдэн. 2012), “White Black Red” (Цагаан хар улаан.2014) and “The Pulse Sound” (Судасны чимээ. 2015). He has been awarded the title of Person of Culture, considered the most prestigious award in his country in the field of culture, in 2009. Since 2000 he has been a author and probably the only Mongolian writer who can live off his books.

“The Legend of the Shaman” (2010) is one of his very appealing novels that depicts the destruction of the Buryat people’s ethnicity and culture on the theme of shamanism, as well as the theme of love in the hidden space of the human mind. The main character of the novel Hagdai is based on the real story of a famous, hereditary shaman, Tseren, who lived in Buryatia, until recently.  He was the one who has preserved the roots of ancient shamanism, and the author has visited him and made a profound study of the meaning behind shamanism.

Generally, this novel implies the gift of prophecy which is given from heaven to Hagdai shaman of Buryatia. In addition to depicting magical phenomena such as drinking a mushroom drink that gives magical power, traveling through the spirit world, connecting with ancestral spirits, and being treated by shamanic magic for a mentally ill person who could not be cured by medical doctors, the author intertwisted essence of the philosophy of Buddhism with the concept of dharma.

According to Hagdai shamans, “there is no religion in the world that is not taken the example from shamanism. Shamanism is not a religion, but it is the praying to the heaven. In order to claim the praying to the heaven, it is important the great ability to enter the realm of spirit, but It is useless to learn ceremony” (Г.Аюурзана. Бөөгийн домог, 2010, УБ.,135-р тал)

The author tries to  provide a comprehensive explanation of the root of the issue that an ancient religion of shamanism and Buddhism that closely intertwined each others, and not easy find its distinction between them, in dialogue with Hagdai shaman.

…The Buddha did not preach any mantra for healing, he only taught us to keep our minds pure. You don’t have to be religious to keep your mind free of greed. You can go pure without knowing the Buddha. A real shaman is that one when he sees his first spirit, realizes there is no reason to be greedy in this life and enlightened and recognizes the truth emptiness of the world.” (Г.Аюурзана. Бөөгийн домог, 2010, УБ.,136-р тал)

Hagdai shaman’s interesting talk is continuing about a monk with a spirit and also about how Buddhism invokes the spirit as shamanism does.

Here, the author enriches the shaman’s discourse with explanations of the similarities between Buddhism and shamanism.

“… There are many myths about the miraculous powers of some Buddhist saints. Think about the living body of the bandita Lama Itgeltov in Ivolgiin’ temple. Isn’t it says that a person who has reached the highest level of meditation can escapes death?

It’s called meditation to reach in high spiritual world of the mind. There is still a hobgoblin in the lama’s body that is hint that the soul that has gone to another realm of spirit can be returned to the shaman’s body. The hidden world can only be seen through the eyes of wisdom, not through the human’s eyes. Spirits are the eyes of wisdom.”(Г.Аюурзана. Бөөгийн домог, 2010, УБ., 135-136-р тал)

Hagdai’s talk is mainly about what is an awakening of the mind and how to reach it. Buddhism says that if you will have a right mindfulness /right concentration, you’ll have reached the first stage at which you can be called an “awakened one”.

The above discussions are closely linked to psychiatric and cognitive knowledge, which is considered as a concept of mindfulness of Buddhism.

The context of this novel inspires readers to search for the meaning of faith, the nature of the human being, the mystery beyond the chaos in this life.

Tengis, assistant of the shaman Hagdai, spent six years on the island Tuulait (in Baikal lake of Buriyatia, Russia). He learned the differences between the concepts of shamanism and religion Shariin shajin (Yellow hat named dominant sect of Buddhism founded by Je Tsongkhapa, a philosopher and Tibetan religious leader). Hagdai’s entire life as a shaman was devoted to alleviating the suffering of human beings on earth and awaking the meaning of enlightenment through his esoteric knowledge given to him by power of inspiration through the upper (spirit) realm.

Tengis was so surprised when he saw the dharmapadda (a collection of sayings by Buddha) in the bookshelf at the home of Hagdai and discussed this book. The shaman says: “People who are practicing Buddhists frown when they think of shamanism . But the worshiper of a shaman undervalues the monks. That is the story of a fake shaman and an unlearned monk. In essence, they both mean one thing and that this world is a reflection of the idea in general.”

Here, the writer revealed the shameless truth about fake shamans or uneducated lamas who turned into a survival tool by promising superpowers to help superstitious blind people. It also implies that vital things like money and power are truly temporary.

Ayurzana’s novels are uniquely formulated for the embodiment of wise ideas, expressive speech of characters, and the inner reflections within them.  When in “Shugden”, and “Mysteries of the Sacred Khangai Mountains “deeply reflect the meaning of life and awakening of national consciousness for freedom, then in “Spirit Formula ” you will find a philosophical thinking of universe, and its relevance to the unfolding psycho spiritual direction of humanity.

About Otgonsuren Jargal

Otgonsuren Jargal, is a linguist (PhD National University of Mongolia), researcher of literary study. Has been awarded for PhD mobility of European Mobility Project, Erasmus Mundus-Impakt Program 2015-2016, in ULPGC, Spain.

Before embarking on her doctoral degree, Otgonsuren used to be a journalist/reviewer and experienced editor and translator from Russian or English into Mongolian language. Also she has been active in CSO (civil society organization) as journalist /environmentalist in 2006 -2015.

Otgonsuren‘s research interest address the context of mindfulness and spiritual things in literature. Furthermore, the mindfulness-based practice methods that are rooted in Eastern culture, entering the Western cultural mainstream as approaches in education and its impact of awakening experience in their society.







Posted in Buddhism, Literature, Otgonsuren Jargal, Religion, Shamanism | Leave a comment

Democratic Convulsions

By Julian Dierkes

Two ongoing convulsions of democracy are having me reflect on Mongolia, elections, and political system challenges: the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan.


According to Katie Putz, one of the choices that is coming out of the revolutionary upheavals of the past month in Kyrgyzstan is whether to return to a pre-2010 presidential system or stick with a more parliamentary emphasis.

Kyrgyzstan is of some relevance to Mongolia in that of the post-state socialist or post-Soviet Central Asian countries, it seems closest behind Mongolia on some kind of path to democracy. Mendee has made the Mongolia-Kyrgyzstan comparison most explicitly in his dissertation and has pointed to the continued role of the former ruling party, the Mongolian People’s (Revolutionary) Party, as one of the important aspects of the institutionalization of democracy in Mongolia. Yet, in the current situation, some clear differences are emerging between the two while some questions might be raised above similarities.

I would argue that Mongolian democracy is far more stable than the Kyrgyz version has been. Some of that has to do with path dependence and the fact that there has not been any kind of revolutionary moment in Mongolia after 1990, so with every extra year of a functioning democracy, stability becomes more and more of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I find it interesting, however, that the political systems question has come up again in the Kyrgyz context. This has been a question that has been gaining in prominence in Mongolia. I do not really know whether there was debate around this topic in the 1990s, but it is a question that Pres Battulga seems to like to pose, presumably in part because he sees an opportunity for himself in shifting to a more presidential system.

For the moment, however, last year’s constitutional changes have titled the balance further toward a parliamentary system. While the Prime Minister has been given more power (appointing his cabinet, for example, rather than having them vote on by parliament), the Ikh Khural has gained some investigatory power and it remains to be seen whether stipulations limiting the number of MPs to serve in cabinet are actually an increase in legislative power for the parliament or a weakening.


Another aspect of discussions about Kyrgyzstan has also bubbled up and leads me to a Mongolia connection.

As much as various populist appeals come up in Mongolian elections, I do see big differences between these and Japarov’s apparent attempts to mobilize revolutionary fervour in Kyrgyzstan by laying claims to mining projects. 

Mining is a much smaller sector in Kyrgyzstan than in Mongolia and Mongolians have, in fact, benefitted from their mining industry in a way that is not so obvious in Kyrgyzstan, partly because of the scale of the projects. While questions around the fairness of the Oyu Tolgoi Investment Agreement and all its amendments can never really be settled, many Mongolians have benefitted from mining activities, whether that be directly, through jobs, or via taxation and public benefits. While Kyrgyz’ claims to mining projects may be a corrupt power grab, in the Mongolian context, despite all the claims about corruption about such large projects as Erdenet, nationalization or anything like it would very much seem like killing the goose that lays golden eggs. That seems less likely to be a winning political strategy in Mongolia than it appears to be in Kyrgyzstan.

United States

Two things have surprised me online in the past several days since the U.S. presidential election: 1. number of voices supporting Trump out of “strategic partnership” gratitude/loyalty, 2. number of disparaging comments about Trump’s claims at election fraud.

Gratitude for the Strategic Partnership

I have been puzzled by the flurry of diplomatic activity between the U.S. and Mongolia that occurred in 2019. Given a completely erratic foreign policy under Trump, the only rhyme I could make of this was that Trump thought that being nice to Mongolia would somehow offend the Chinese regime, something that he would take delight in. In this case, the being nice was the announcement of a “strategic partnership”, something that successive Mongolian presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers had craved. But gratitude and loyalty to Donald Trump because of that? I do not quite see that. It is not that this partnership came out of thin air, it had been a Mongolian foreign policy aim for some time. And it is hard to think that Donald Trump really understood must of what is involved in any kind of partnership. Yet, some Mongolian tweeps were cheering Trump on during and after the election professing some kind of loyalty.

Election Fraud

Trump’s claims at election fraud have seemed ludicrous and very anti-democratic by baselessly undermining trust in elections.

Sound familiar?

I was surprised to see some Mongolian voices mocking these claims by Trump, but not noticing that this is very much a pattern after all Mongolian elections. Unsubstantiated allegations of fraud? Yup, by the dozen and from all directions. No matter whether DP or MPP, all sides are always accusing each other of fraud, but seem reluctant to step forward with any kind of proof. Frequently, when I give presentations about Mongolian democracy, someone in the audience will pipe up with, “But you know the elections are fake!” And somehow these claims do not seem undemocratic when they are made about Mongolian elections, but they do seem so when Trump makes them about the U.S.. 

Posted in Democracy, Elections, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia and ..., Politics, United States | Leave a comment

Panel: New Film “Echoes of Empire”

On October 23, 2020, we came together for a panel discussion of Robert Lieberman’s new film, “Echoes of Empire“.

Participants in the panel discussion:

Here’s the video recording of that discussion:

Or, for audio only, listen here:

In late October 2020, the sneak preview of the film continues online.

Posted in Cinema, History, Media and Press, Social Change | Leave a comment

2020 Local Elections

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan and Julian Dierkes 

The local elections usually do not get much attention from international journalists, Mongolia-watchers, and even in-country diplomats. However, local elections at the capital city/aimag and district/soum level have several important implications for the country’s politics: (1) elected representatives basically run the local government, (2) parties in power of the local councils (i.e., citizens’ representative khural) shape local politics ahead of presidential elections, and (3) local posts (elected & appointed) are a training ground for young and new party members.

Going back to old schedule

Back in 2011, when parliament was revising the law on election, most MPs bought the argument to organize the parliamentary and local (aimag/soum; capital city/districts) elections simultaneously in June based on three rationales. One is economic, this would save financial and human resources. Another reason was the low voter turn-out, both for the national and local elections. The other reason was to have local governments in place before August, when all needed to prepare for the winter; otherwise, people wasted so much time and energy on politics. As a result, the parliament decided to conduct both elections simultaneously, but to implement in three phases.

In 2012, only the election for the 45-member Citizens’ Representative Khural of the capital city was conducted along the parliamentary election. Then, in 2016, elections of Citizens’ Representative Khural of the capital city and 21 provinces were organized together with the parliamentary election in June while conducting elections for the capital city districts and soums in October. This type of concurrent elections has prevented unsuccessful parliamentary candidates from running in local elections. Nonetheless, starting from 2020, all decided to revive the old electoral schedule: the parliamentary elections in June and the local one in October.

2020 Local Elections

The local election was organized on October 15. Avoiding entanglement in the most complicated elections, the General Election Commission has kept its distance only by providing technical (e.g., the automated system) and professional expertise, including the guidelines running the election during the pandemics.

17,149 candidates from 9 parties, one coalition as well as independents ran for 8,169 seats at the Citizens’ Representatives Khural at the capital city/aimag and district/soum level. The Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) – the current ruling party, which controls the parliament and government, – won in the capital city and 13 of 21 provinces.

The nearly-collapsed Democratic Party (DP) established an anti-incumbent coalition with the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), a breakaway party from the MPP, and SHINE. The DP-MPRP-SHINE coalition won eight provinces and Sukhbaatar District (one of 9 city districts).  Since most of these new members came from the DP, its leaders quickly distanced themselves from the other two small, populist parties.

The National Labour Party, known as HUN, which campaigned only in the capital city and Darkhan, another large city in the north, won 18 seats (3 in the capital city and 15 in various districts). Unlike the MPRP, which won 5 seats in five different aimags’ khurals, or SHINE, which won one each in two provinces (Darkhan-Uul and Dundgobi), HUN secured 3 seats in the 45-member capital city’s khural.


In the absence of independent observers (except participating parties’ observers), reluctance from the General Election Commission and other law-enforcement organizations to be involved in messy local politics, it is difficult to categorize the local elections as strictly ‘free and fair’ until all complaints and reports about violations that are backed up by evidence get an independent, professional review.

The two dominant parties had clear advantages in the election. It was difficult to separate the election campaign events from day-to-day activities of cabinet members, parliament members, and, most importantly, of local governments (governors/mayor). The MPP mostly campaigned on the new government’s action plan and some specific proposals for the capital city, for example, to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution as well as to improve the public works. The DP acted like a devastated, populist party by joining into a coalition with two other parties – MPRP, which is under the control of the former president N Enkhbayar, and SHINE, a party of former MP Batzandan. The most important support for the DP seems to have come from President Kh Battulga as he presented massive award ceremonies (esp., mothers’ awards) while touring around the countryside. In contrast, the HUN party focused on key themes for the urban centre such as reducing traffic congestions and explicitly played by the rule.

The MPP secured its majority (34 seats) at the Citizens’ Representatives Khural of the capital city as well as 8 of 9 city districts. This allows the MPP to control the capital city, which is considered the important powerbase economically and politically. Although the DP gained a majority in Sukhbaatar district, it lost two former power bases (Bayangol and Bayanzurkh districts). At the same time, DP’s seats at the Citizens’ Representatives Khural were reduced from 11 to 8. In retrospect, the DP gained control of the capital city for the first time in 2012 (with 26 seats) but it became the minority from 2016 (with 11 seats).

What’s Next

In the next few days, new members of the Citizens’ Representative Council of capital city/aimag and district/soum level will conduct their first sessions to get organized and nominate the mayor for the capital city and governors for 21 aimags. Here, the Prime Minister plays an influential role of endorsing new mayor and governors. In the past, some prime ministers were reluctant to endorse candidates from the opposition party, which complicates local politics and delays day-to-day activities of the provinces and capital city. Now, the DP will be able to nominate 8 governors in provinces, where the DP hold the majority in the khural.

The two major parties – MPP and DP – will begin to strategize for the presidential election in 2021. Under the new constitution, the next president will be elected for a single, six-year term. This raises two interesting questions:

The first is whether the incumbent president will be allowed to run for the presidency. If one looks at most of former socialist cases (esp., in Russia) and even Mongolia’s own precedent case (P Ochirbat in 1993 election), the Constitutional Court could rule in favour of the incumbent.

The other is who will be the presidential candidate from the HUN party since only political parties with the seat(s) in the parliament are allowed to nominate their candidates. HUN has one seat in parliament, but all its known candidates are under 55, which is the threshold age for the presidential candidacy. This was the case for the opposition parties in 1990s. The opposition parties nominated former president P Ochirbat for two presidential elections (1993, 1997) until 2001, when their members passed the constitutional minimum age of 45 years.

Posted in Aimags, Democratic Party, Elections, Governance, Mendee Jargalsaikhan, Mongolian People's Party, Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, National Labor Party, Politics, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | Leave a comment

Interview with B Tsogtbaatar: Public Health and COVID-Response

By Julian Dierkes

Dr. TSOGTBAAYAR Byambaa earned his PhD from the Faculty of Health Sciences of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver in 2014. He received his MSc in Health Administration and International Health Policy from the University of Colorado in 2005. Tsogtbaatar is a family physician by background (HSUM, 2002) and public health professional/researcher by training who has worked for various health institutions at senior level positions such as lecturer at the National Medical University of Mongolia, officer at the GFATM supported HIV/AIDS projects, Director general at the National Center for Public Health as well as the Director general of Department of Public administration and Management of the Mongolian Ministry of Health. He has also worked as Project Coordinator for the CIHR funded Equity-Focused Health Impact Assessment Tools and Methodologies project. He was elected to the Executive Board of International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI) in 2017, representing Asia. Dr. Tsogtbaatar is now Senior Advisor for health at the UNICEF, Mongolia. He has previously written for this blog.

Q: You finished your PhD at Simon Fraser Univ in 2014, completing research about the utility of Health Impact Assessments in the Mongolian mining industry. What’s the current status of HIAs?

Although mining activities (except for coal export) in the economy and foreign direct investment has been declining for the past few years, the mining industry remains an important part of Mongolian economy. As for HIA, it still has not been converted well into practice due to relatively low number of foreign-invested mining operations. According to the 2012 Environmental Impact Assessment Law, HIA is required only for cumulative and strategic impact assessment. This needs to be expanded. Unless HIA is strictly mandated by law, local companies take it as just an unnecessary requirement. I am sure we are nearing another boom in the mining industry. When that happens, there is still unmet need for well-trained HIA practitioners in the country.

Q: Since completing the dissertation, you’ve been working in Mongolian public health before now taking on a role as Senior Health Advisor with UNICEF in Mongolia. What role(s) have you played in the meantime?

In line with my training abroad, my contribution in Mongolia focused on strengthening the public health system and informed decision-making practices. When I served in the role of DG at the Public Health Institute, both generating more evidence and applying that knowledge to diseases prevention practices were my main priorities. Eventually, PHI was transformed into the National Center for Public Health. My time and effort at the Ministry of Health was largely dedicated to improving post graduate training curricula, improving the salaries of health professionals, improving MOH visibility at the international level and the nation’s COVID-19 fight.

Q: A number of observers have commented on Mongolia’s response to the COVID19 pandemic as fairly successful, highlighting the lack of community transmission. Would you agree that the response has been successful overall?

So far so good. Timely public health interventions, including suspension of all classes as early as Jan 24th, swiftly shifting into regular news reporting by MOH, closing international borders exclusively, cancelling lunar new year celebrations, urging the public to wear mask at all times and cleaning hands, have helped to be where we are at today. However, we should always remind each other that we are one careless move away by a citizen or one sub-standard action away by a civil servant. That is what it will take to go from imported-cases-only status to local transmission.

Q: Thinking back to January/February, can you recall the context in which you heard about COVID19 for the first time?

First it came up during a weekly meeting at the ministry of health. Not many people knew about it or seemed to be interested. A couple of weeks later, the people who were supposed to inform the minister did just that. The minister asked for an urgent meeting of the State Emergency Commission and we held the first ever press conference at the MOH. This was on Jan 23rd of 2020.

Q: What does the Mongolian “warning system” for infectious diseases look like in non-pandemic times?

We had a decent warning system that calls for timely action and multisectoral collaboration when there is a public health emergency, coordinated by the deputy prime minister’s Regulation 8. Obviously, there were a number of flaws or gray areas that needed to be sorted out. The Mongolian parliament approved a “temporary” law back in April to mitigate against socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. Experts from all relevant sectors were included in the sub-working group that I was part of.

Q: Were there many alternative reactions in February or was it easy to convince decision-makers of need for the closing of borders/caution with Tsagaan Sar celebrations, etc.

Both, the public and decision-makers had a similar level of information and perception as COVID unfolded, rapidly. The classic public health approach of “expect the worst-case scenario” was in play and the government treated the evolving situation seriously, valuing health experts advice. Strong leadership and timely policy recommendations by the health sector were a key factor.

Q: Some observers have pointed to state socialist hygiene campaigns and relatively regular quarantining for diseases in animals as factors in high compliance with public health measures in Mongolian in the Spring. Important factors?

The so-called socialist hygiene approach is somewhat lost in the context of the current public health concept in the country. Yet, one cannot deny the impact of such roots in compliance with public health interventions. However, many contributing factors could have contributed, for example, previous experience of dealing with frequent seasonal flu epidemyic, hosting a WHO-supported “Pandemic Flu Readiness” workshop in 2019, having a relatively strong surveillance and lab system, the current speed of information sharing at the global level, the relatively small, manageable size of the population, role and pressure of social media and the leadership. Some people even jokingly linked the traditional high solidarity and adaptability of Mongolians during wartime situations.

Q: At UBC there has been some discussion of the Global Health Security Index in light of what we’ve observed with COVID response around the world. Any comments on how the index captures the Mongolian situation? For example, the index points to Mongolia’s strong ability to detect, but greater challenges to respond. Has this been a factor in COVID-response?

Although, I would not call the GHSI a flawless tool, this is the first comprehensive assessment of global health security capabilities in 195 countries. In the 2019 ranking, Mongolia was ranked relatively high at 46 out of 195 countries in the “more prepared” category. We were highly valued for detection capacity (20th) whereas response capacity was somewhere in the middle (90th) of the crowd. I would say, in reflecting on this ranking, numbers speak for themselves. As of Oct 9th of 2020, there are 315 registered cases (all imported), no fatality and no community transmission in Mongolia. We were ranked at 3rd among all LMICs.

Q: We tend to think that the policy response in Canada has been very strong, in particular in BC where there has been an emphasis on appealing to people’s solidarity rather than draconian measures. Have you/have Mongolian policy-makers been watching other jurisdictions at all?

Solely to speak to our own case, we have looked at WHO’s international health regulation and other countries’ experiences regarding the limiting international travel. For instance, the travel advisory system with 4 levels by USA was studied. In general, more emphasis was given to studying previous historic pandemic events and lessons learnt.

Q: Even for those of us in higher education administration, it was a spring of near-constant crisis management. I can only imagine that this was even more the case for decision-makers like yourself in public health. What have we learnt from this, so far?

Yes, we must admit that NO ONE was and still is ready for an event of such big magnitude. At times there were feelings of “wearing out” by working long hours repeatedly. So personal time management seemed to be crucial in the absence of a system that protects overall performance and wellbeing of civil servants. There should be contingency plans. Although we started talking about leading the “new normalcy” in our lives, we still do not know what that really means. I guess countries have bought some time for themselves to cope with such situations at different expenses. At least, now we know that we do not know many things and how commanding public health is.

Posted in Health, Public Service, Tsogtbaatar Byambaa | Leave a comment

Geopolitics of Mongolia Podcast

Julian Dierkes recently spoke to Michael Hilliard about Mongolia’s foreign relations in an extended show of  The Red Line Podcast focused on geopolitics.

Posted in China, Inner Mongolia, International Relations, Mongolia and ..., Mongolians in China, Podcast, Russia | Leave a comment

Friends in Defence of Democracy?

By Julian Dierkes

Throughout the past 30 years of democratic foreign policy, Mongolia has been a multi-lateral joiner, i.e. eager to participate in international initiatives that raise its profile, in particular aimed at deepening relationships with “Third Neighbours”. Now, there is another club that Mongolia is not only joining, but appears to have co-founded, “Friends in Defence of Democracy”.

Friends in Defence of Democracy?

Apart from a Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, I have not found other information about the intentions of this partnership.

We share a common concern for the challenges facing democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world. These worrisome trends have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We, the Friends in Defence of Democracy, will collaborate with a view to manifesting our commitment to democracy and to stepping up our efforts to protect democracy, its principles, processes, institutions and defenders.

I am a committed democrat myself and firmly believe that democracy is the best form of government available not only to Canada and Germany, but to Mongolia as well. I am thus delighted to read of these plans.

Multilateral Activities

Part of Mongolia’s intention to balance productive relations with its two immediate neighbours by an intensification of relations with “Third Neighbours” has been a strong commitment to multilateralism. Perhaps this is not surprising for a (population) small country wedged between two giants. As clear a target as this seems, it has taken on a variety of forms for Mongolia.

One area of focus has been the UN. It is thus perhaps not surprising that the announcement of this most recent initiative has come on the “margins of the UN General Assembly” (press release). Other activities have centred on Mongolia’s growing contribution to UN Peacekeeping (a topic that Mendee wrote as far back as six years ago). Former President Elbegdorj announced Mongolia’s candidacy as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in the 2022 election in 2014, where Mongolia’s candidacy remains uncontested for the Asia-Pacific Group.

Finally, Mongolia has been active in and – perhaps more notable – hosted several international meetings.

The FOC meeting in 2015 was notable for Mongolia being the first host in Asia for this meeting.

Mongolia also has taken the initiative on specific issues, for example through the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on Northeast Asian Security.

Current Domestic Context

What is notable about these various meetings is that they all came during the presidency of Ts Elbegdorj. While there are many criticisms of his political role as a parliamentarian, prime minister and president, it is clear that he is not only a committed democrat, but continues to strive to put that commitment into action. The citizen halls could serve as an example of such action domestically whereas the above conferences elevated Mongolia’s international visibility.

Pres. Battulga has taken no such actions to bolster democracy, he barely pays lip service to its ideals. This even though he was nominated for the presidency by the Democratic Party. His own foreign policy interests clearly lie in Russia, he does not appear to enjoy travel and has generally focused his attention on relations with Russia and China. Yet, the announcement of a partnership of “Friends in Defence of Democracy” suggests that there continues to be some strong support for Mongolia’s participation in multilateral efforts at shoring up democracy at a time when it seems globally under threat, not least from the destabilizing and worrisome actions taken by U.S. Pres. Trump.

International Relations Context

The last several years have seen an increasingly assertive or aggressive (depending on your point of view) China. The Chinese regime is obviously threatened by democracy and continues to try to push a narrative of the effectiveness of its ugly authoritarian form of government. Is the public declaration of allegiance to democracy a defiant gesture toward Beijing? At least in part, yes. But then, all there is so far is a declaration of the founding of  partnership. There are no activities hinted at and little speculation about what this partnership might do.

Mongolia is the only Asian founding member of this partnership which includes three European nations (Georgia, Portugal, Sweden), one South American (Uruguay) and two African members (Liberia, Tunisia). The glaring omission of North America might be rooted in the U.S.’ lack of eligibility to join such a partnership under Pres. Trump. I would hope that Canada might also consider joining, though perhaps that is under consideration pending more details on what this partnership might actually do. The lack of U.S. participation is even more glaring as the Community of Democracies “was born as a collective initiative of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Polish Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek“. The U.S. and Poland as champions of democracy? Those were the days!

Curious Outlook

Maybe we will learn more of the plans for this partnership and Mongolia’s role in it, or maybe not. I do hope that we learn more and that it turns into a real partnership as democracy and also democracy in Mongolia needs to be constantly reinforced in today’s context.

And what will we call this partnership? FiDoD?

Posted in Democracy, International Relations, Mongolia and ..., UN | Leave a comment

Blip or Shift in Sino-Mongolian Relationship?

By Julian Dierkes

[Apologetic preamble: the beginning of the academic term is extra busy for me, so this is neither as thought-out, nor as edited as I would have wanted it to be, but I did want to post on this issue…]

I have long felt that the Chinese regime has been relatively soft on Mongolia. I have seen evidence of that in the lack of very strong pressure to join SCO, but also in the absence of Chinese ownership of any of the major resource projects. This despite overwhelming Mongolian economic dependence (imports and exports) on China. My explanation for this has always been that the Chinese regime remains somewhat nervous about Mongolians in China and the potential for ethnic conflict.

Is something about the Sino-Monglian relationship changing?

As I wrote in this tweet, the announcement of changes in Inner Mongolian education policy in the summer have triggered a lot of reactions. The visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was surely planned long ahead of any of these reactions, especially since Wang seems to be on a bigger swing through Central Asia and Mongolia. But I am left wondering whether the visit and events around signal some kind of turning point in Sino-Mongolian relationships that could mean a more aggressive Chinese regime vis-a-vis the Mongolian government in the future.

For the changes to Inner Mongolian language policy, see these two academic analyses:

I recently wrote about how protests in Inner Mongolia appear to be receiving more attention in Mongolia than in previous instances. Marissa has written specifically about frm. Pres Elbegdorj’ and current Pres Batulga’s interventions.

And it is Elbegdorj that is at the centre of an observation that usually-very-diplomatic Chinese ambassadors to Mongolia have been replaced by a more aggressive current ambassador, at least in this matter.

Interview with Chinese Ambassador

Amb. Chai Wenrui  was interviewed for on Sept 15:

-Өмнөд Монголд эх хэлээрээ хичээлээ оруулахыг эрмэлзэж байгаа. Энэ тал дээр таны байр суурь ямар байна вэ?

-Өмнөд Монголд дийлэнх нь талархан хүлээж авч байгаа. Цөөхөн хүмүүс л эсэргүүцэж байгаа юм. Энэ талаар Монгол Улсад маш их шуугьж байна. Ялангуяа Монгол Улсын Ерөнхийлөгч байсан хүн эсэргүүцэж байна. Тэр хүн Өмнөд Монгол бол хятадын нутаг дэвсгэрийн салшгүй хэсэг гэдэг байсан. Албан тушаалаасаа буугаад хоёр нүүртэн болж байна. Монголд өндөр албан тушаал хашиж байсан хүн буруу ойлголт тарааж байгаад бид туйлын их харамсаж байна. Казах үндэстнүүд монгол хэл сурахгүй бол болохгүй биз дээ. Түүнтэй адил зөвхөн монголоор яривал Хятадад ч гэсэн ажиллахад хэцүү. Өмнөд Монголтой холбоотой асуудал дээр худал цуурхал тарааж зөрчилдөөн үүсгэж Хятад, Монголын харилцааг өдөөн хатгаж байна. Үүнээс үүдэн хоёр улсын ард иргэдийн ашиг сонирхол болон найрамдалд хохирол учрах аюултай. Хятад, Монгол хоёр бол мөнхийн хөршүүд хийгээд Иж бүрэн стратегийн түншүүд. “Мод тайрахад амархан, ургуулахад хэцүү” гэдэг. Найрамдал харилцан итгэлцэл бол талуудын урт хугацааны хамтын хичээл зүтгэлийн үр дүн. Монгол нөхөд маань зөв бурууг ялган, худал цуурхлыг таслан зогсоож, хоёр улсын харилцааг өдөөн хатгалтаас тууштай хамгаална гэдэгт итгэж байна.

Rough Translation:

“In Inner Mongolia they are trying to teach in their native Mongolian language. What is your stance on this?”

“The majority in Inner Mongolia welcome it. Only a few people are protesting. There is a lot of noise in Mongolia about this. In particular, the former President of Mongolia is protesting. He said that Inner Mongolia was an integral part of China’s territory. He turned two-faced (hypocrite) once he left the office. We are deeply saddened that a high-ranking official in Mongolia is spreading misconceptions. Kazakhs have to learn Mongolian. Similarly, it is difficult to work in China if you speak only Mongolian. These false rumours regarding Inner Mongolia are spread to instigate conflict.

“False rumours about Southern Mongolia are provoking conflict and impacting Sino-Mongolian relations. As a result, the interests and friendship of the peoples of the two countries may be harmed. As a result, the interests and peace of the peoples of the two countries may be harmed. China and Mongolia are eternal neighbours and comprehensive strategic partners. There is a saying, ‘Trees are easy to cut and hard to grow.’ Peace and mutual trust are the result of long-term joint efforts. I hope that our Mongolian comrades will be able to distinguish between right and wrong, put an end to false rumours, and firmly protect bilateral relations from provocations.”

Amb. Chai’s first foreign posting was to Mongolia in the late 1980s, this appears to be his sixth posting to Mongolia and he seems to have never been posted abroad other than to Mongolia. That makes it fairly certain that he did not misspeak.

Obviously, there is a lot of very typical diplo-speak in this, i.e. “eternal neighbours”, “comprehensive partners”, “friendship”, “provocations”… Apologies, but bla bla bla…

But a former president “two-faced” “hypocrite”? That is not so typical.

And, Elbegdorj responded:

Prompted by a tweet by fellow blogger, Marissa, no less.

What Gives?

So, why would the Chinese ambassador be so aggressive in an interview? There has also been some discussion of the vaguely threatening mention of coal exports in other parts of the interview, of course.

Bureaucratic Posturing

I know very little about the internal politics/dynamics of the Chinese foreign service. In diplomatic services I know more about, a six-time posting to a minor neighbour would not be the fast track to diplomatic stardom. Amb. Chai will likely only host FM Wang once during his tenure as ambassador. Given the current Chinese wolf warrior diplomacy, perhaps he merely wanted to impress his boss.

Minority Kneejerk

I do think that many Chinese officials, but also many Chinese feel quite defensive about aspects of the minority policy of the PRC. Not because they disagree with it, but because much of the noisy parts of the world disagree with it. Who has had a reasonable and calm discussion with Chinese students about Tibet, for example? So, Mongolian echos of Inner Mongolian protests may touch a nerve.


As president, Elbegdorj did have a slight pan-Mongol(ian)ist bend. Remember the scholarships for Kalmyks or for Hazara? By contrast, it was also during the Elbegdorj presidency that Inner Mongolians were turned away from seeking asylum in Mongolia, wasn’t it?

A Change in Chinese Foreign Policy

But maybe this interview and what it suggests about (future) relations is a sign of an actual change in Chinese foreign policy. There are many colleagues and observers much more competent to comment on that. But, if I am right that the Chinese regime has been “soft” on Mongolia in the past, perhaps that is changing along with overall greater assertiveness and China throwing its weight around, whether than is ultimately rooted in internal dynamics or is a reaction to the decline of U.S. foreign policy-making under an erratic Trump administration.


Some of the protests that occurred on the day of FM Wang’s visit have been covered in the press as in the SCMP article I referenced above, but also in a Reuters article:

I would only note that as far as I could tell from photos, the crowd was not very large, but it also did not include some of the usual suspects that would turn out for nationalist causes.

Reactions to Official Announcements

The official part of FM Wang’s visit was peppered with announcements, of course. This is very common across foreign services, high-ranking visitors always need some thing to announce.

Part of the announcements was a RMB720m loan, apparently, which has inspired a lot of ridicule online as basically buying the loyalty/silence of the Mongolian government.

Posted in China, Foreign Policy, Mongolia and ..., Mongolians in China, Nationalism | Leave a comment

Current and Previous Mongolian Presidents Weigh In on Mongolian Language Education

By Marissa J. Smith

Since Julian’s post on the unfolding events around China’s cancellation of Mongolian-medium education, the current Mongolian president, Kh. Battulga, and his predecessor, Ts. Elbegdorj, have released statements.

As a brief update on the situation, Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, which continues to collect and publish videos from on the ground on its website, and The Diplomat are reporting in the last twenty-four hours that schools are empty, with students and parents apparently effectively boycotting the education system. The Diplomat reports that in Jirem/Tongliao, the administrative area where the policy was initially announced in June and one home to the largest population of Mongolians in China, “local Communist Party leaders have been visiting each family to try to get the students to return.”

Ts. Elbegdorj, president of Mongolia from 2009 to 2017 and of the same party as Kh. Battulga, the Democratic Party, made a very explicit statement of support to those protesting and “struggling against” (temtsekh, ᠲᠡᠮᠡᠴᠡᠬᠦ) the changes in China. His video was apparently made in cooperation with the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, and was released on their YouTube Channel, as well as on his official Facebook page, where he also posted in English, “We need to voice our support for Mongolians striving to preserve their mother tongue and scripture in China. The right to learn and use one’s mother tongue is an inalienable right for all. Upholding this right is a way for China to be a respectable and responsible power.”

Current Mongolian president Kh. Battulga made his remarks on the occasion of the new school year, which as in China, occurs on September 1. The video was broadcast by the Mongolian National Broadcaster (English language coverage below) and also covered by print media.

Though unlike Elbegdorj’s, Battugla’s comments did not explicitly express support for the protestors in China or make reference at all to events there, the video did include the recitation of a poem by a Mongolian from China. (Thank you to Christopher Atwood for drawing my attention to this tweet.)

Battulga “taught the first lesson of the year” to a group of school children in a ger decorated with the traditional “standing script” (bosoo bichig, ᠪᠣᠱᠤᠭ᠎ᠠ ᠢᠴᠢᠭ) emphasizing, as Elbegdorj also did, the connections between Mongolian language and Mongolian identity. The use of the term “standing script” is significant, and not the one always colloquially used in Mongolia to refer to this script, the teaching of which in Mongolian schools has actually declined significantly since the 1990s. The poem, and the verse recited by Battulga with all of the schoolchildren together, also used the term “bosoo” or “standing” prominently. The form of the Mongolian script is explicitly connected to the form of the human body itself, especially when it is being taught, when components of the script are described as body parts including the backbone, teeth, stomach, shins, and so on, and the use of the term “standing script” in this context evokes Elbegdorj’s much more explicit statements about the relationship between Mongolian language and Mongolian identity. (In the tweeted clip, the children also compare the Mongolian script to a “superpower” like that belonging to a Marvel Universe Avenger.)

While I would find it surprising if Mongolia’s government took official measures to protest the change in policy in China, I am surprised by both Elbegdorj and Battulga’s statements and definitely staying tuned!

Posted in Author, China, Cultural Diplomacy, Digital Diplomacy, Education, Foreign Policy, Inner Mongolia, Literature, Marissa Smith, Mongolia and ..., Mongolians in China, Nationalism, Politics, Primary and Secondary Education, Social Media, Social Movements, Video | Leave a comment

Noticing Inner Mongolia

By Julian Dierkes

I generally have not paid very much attention to Inner Mongolia. Even beginning to understand the setting of Mongolians within the People’s Republic seems like a daunting task. I also find many of the current actions of the Chinese regime despicable and fear that this feeling would not make a strong basis for attempting to analyze Inner Mongolia. For the most part, I have also found many Mongolians to be surprisingly (to me) indifferent to Inner Mongolia. The current changes in language education policy in Inner Mongolia seem to be generating much more social media traffic in Mongolia than I have previously seen on Inner Mongolia topics.

Here are some examples of tweets about the language education situation in Inner Mongolia:


Most of the tweets or posts that I see are targeting language policy specifically and a defence of the (use of the) Mongolian language within the People’s Republic. However, there is a very clear subtext of national self-determination as is clear in Munkhsaikhan’s tweet above.

There are two comprehensive and approachable scholarly articles that explain the background to some of the fears regarding “bilingual” education as it is practiced in China.

Foreign Policy Detour

As I said above, I pay scant attention to Inner Mongolia itself. However, I do pay close attention to the Mongolia-China relationship. In this sphere, I have been arguing for some time that it is Inner Mongolia and the threat of ethnic/pan-Mongolist/pan-Mongolianist (is that a term?) unrest that has tempered Chinese exercise of coercive power over Mongolia.

In principle, Chinese economic domination over Mongolia is overpowering. Yet, the Chinese regime has not used this power to force very visible projects/concessions on Mongolia. Is it not surprising in the context of total economic dependence that no Chinese investors have muscled in on some of the large Mongolian resource projects? Sure, the Chinese regime is not monolithic and there are many competing economic interests in particular, but even then, it continues to strike me as odd that over the past ten years or so, no strong pressure has been applied to the Mongolian government to allow for large, single-project investments. This is in contrast to Russia, for example, far less dominant economically, but episodically muscling in on the Mongolian economy as in the example of the distribution of petrol or the uranium mining sector.

A more political example is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This is very clearly a Chinese initiative and the Chinese regime has hinted for some time that it would like for Mongolia to become a full member rather than remain at observer status. Yet, Mongolia has not joined. President Battulga seems to be in favour of membership (for unfathomable-to-me reasons), but no clear steps have been taken.

My interpretation of this relative restraint has been that the Chinese regime continues to be nervous about the quasi-diasporic relationship between Inner Mongolia and Mongolia. Given the global reactions to violent repression in Tibet and Xinjiang (examples that many beyond-Mongolian discussions of minority rights in China draw on), the Chinese regime would likely want to avoid any attention to and perhaps any need for repression in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region. This is even more the case because while the IMAR is often portrayed as a peripheral frontier region (just one step away from “Outer Mongolia” that Sion-centric colonial appellation for Mongolia), it is actually not very far away from Chinese economic centres along the coast. After all, the drive from Beijing to Hohot is a mere 500km.

Knee-Jerk Foreign Policy Reactions

The one example where all gloves come off in China-Mongolia relations is the Dalai Lama, especially visits to Mongolia and any talk of succession centred on Mongolia. We are very familiar with the knee-jerk nature of this reaction from the Chinese regime and see echoes of it even in some Chinese university students abroad with whom discussions of Tibet or Xinjiang feel similar to confrontations with gun-enthusiasts in the U.S., irrational and angry.

Any official pronouncements from the Mongolian government about the fate of Mongolian – never mind Mongolians – in Inner Mongolia, would likely be met with a somewhat violent reaction, violent not in the sense of actual physical or territorial violence, but most likely in language and possible sanctions like interruptions to trade flows and the like. Despite Munkhnaran’s above call for a more active stance from the Mongolian government in this regard, I do not think that the government is ready to react in any strong manner, at least not until reactions in Mongolia itself get louder and more numerous and until there is some international support for a reaction.

Such support may be coming, of course. Not surprisingly, Radio Free Asia will be happy to oblige with reporting that points to Chinese misdeeds. At some point, such reporting may come to the attention of the Trump administration, eager at the moment to needle the Chinese regime politically while making nice economically. Criticism of the perceived-to-be-tame reaction from the EU on the takeover of Hong Kong may lead to a greater desire to criticize China on an economically less-central region like Inner Mongolia.

Mongolian Mobilization

In a tweetshell:

It is this increase in activities that made me first notice that the current situation seems to be somewhat different from previous reports of protests and resistance that are regularly circulated, for example in English by the Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center.

In paying more attention, I have noticed that some Mongolians are mobilizing against these language policies online. Interestingly, this seems to be a somewhat more organized, deliberate campaign than many activities during the recent election, perhaps because there are no immediate (domestic) political implications.


Mongolian Twitter remains relatively unorganized, the use of hashtags is still not very common. However, on Inner Mongolia, some hashtags are being used:

#SaveMongolianLanguage | #Өвөрмонгол | #ӨвөрмонголЭхХэлээХамгаалахТэмцэл |

Facebook Profile Picture Frame

Launched by FB user A Tsend-Ayush:


Save Education in Inner Mongolia

Posted in China, Education, Ethnic Groups, Inner Mongolia, Nationalism, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

Covering Election: Looking Back

By Julian Dierkes

As we wrote in May, this was the first election since the existence of Mongolia Focus that none of our regular writers were in-country. Our “coverage” of the election was thus a bit different.

Why Cover the Election?

In that earlier post, I noted how elections focus attention to Mongolia to some extent. Our motivation is thus in part the opportunity to offer some deeper reflections on the election, but also on Mongolian politics more generally, to a wider audience than we are able to reach in non-election times.

A secondary motivation has also been in the past that we have often found Mongolian election analyses in the press to be somewhat unsatisfying. That motivation led to the extensive posts we wrote in the 2012 parliamentary election, for example. To me, this past election was a big change in that regard as Mongolian media engaged much more with some of the substantive questions that we have been asking ourselves as well. Kudos in particular to whose coverage has been terrific in this regard: up-to-date, well-presented, substantive. It has also been terrific to see that some Mongolian academics have been more active with commentary in this election than previously. Of course, there were also a number of academics who ran as candidates, so perhaps their colleagues were inspired to comment.  It was particularly nice to see E Gerelt-Od comment in the media as several of us have known and worked with Gerelt-Od for a long time.

A final motivation is that blogging is always a form of (public) note-taking as well and a way to try out some questions that we might address in a more academic fashion in the future.


This will be the 50th post that has focused on the 2020 election from the first post in September 2018 that looked at possible implications of the then-prevalent sense of crisis, through the lead-up to candidate selection, to a nearly-two-week period of publishing a post every single day during the campaign (June 9-22) to post-election analyses that will continue to come. Even with some of that post-election analysis, we’re unlikely to read the 60 posts that we had written about the 2012 election. But for that election in particular, we found coverage of the results on the election day in the media to be frustrating so that we were turning results as we watched them on TV into seat distributions, etc. by hand, tasks that Mongolian media companies were much better equipped in the 2020 election to carry out. See also the reflections on the 2012 election “season” that I offered.

All of us four regular writers wrote posts. We were really happy to welcome a number of first-time and returning guest authors to Mongolia Focus.

In this listing note that we have managed to have a mix of residents and non-residents of Mongolia (by birth or otherwise), and a mix of women and men represented.


As before, the election attracted a significant readership. A typical day usually brings just under 100 visitors to our pages, but the entire election period brought significantly larger numbers including a June 24 peak of 650 pages viewed.

June 2020 Page Views

There is a similar pattern, even more pronounced, in impressions of my tweets:


Zoom Panels

Not because of the election per se, but because we have all been forced online in some of our scholarly activities, we held four pre- and post-election Zoom panels. On June 1, I offered a preview of the electionBulgan, Marissa and I participated in the discussions during the election campaign: June 12 and June 22, as well as in the post-election analysis. We were delighted to have additional panelists joining us: O Batbold (June 12), Robert Ritz (June 22), B Otgontugs (June 29). Recordings of these discussions can be found on YouTube.

A total of over 120 participants joined us online for these discussions and the recordings have been viewed over 1,000 times with around 15% of viewers continuing to watch through the end of the recording.

Posted in Ikh Khural 2020, Reflection | Tagged | Leave a comment

Ministers in Khurelsukh’s Cabinet

By Julian Dierkes, Marissa Smith and Bulgan Batdorj

Byambajav has already provided a brief introduction to the 16 ministers who have been appointed to PM Khurelsukhs post-2020-election cabinet. Since a number of them are not MPs and have not been in the front row of policy-makers in the past, here is some additional information on their backgrounds.

Prime Minister (Монгол Улсын Ерөнхий Сайд): MP U Khurelsukh
Born 1968, Ulaanbaatar
Defense University of Mongolia (Political Science), Institute of Public Administration and Development (Public Administration), National University of Mongolia (Law), in California (1997), in Tokyo (1994), in Hiroshima (1998)
Deputy Prime Minister 2014-2015
Staff, Press and Information Department of MPRP Central Committee (1991-1996)
President of MPRP Democratic Socialist Mongolian Youth Association (1997-1999, 2000-05)
MPP Gen Secretary 2008-2012
Member of Parliament 2000-2008
Minister of National Emergency Agency 2004-06
Minister in charge of Professional Inspections 2006-08
Secretary-General, MPRP (2008 – 2012)
Deputy Prime Minister 2016-17
Prime Minister 2017-Present

Deputy Prime Minister  (Шадар сайд): Ya SODBAATAR (Янгугийн Содбаатар)
Born 1974, Tsetserleg, Arkhangai
National Univ of Mongolia (1996), Mongolian Univ of Science & Technology  (1997), Management Academy (2003)
Secretary, Secretary-General, MPP Democratic Socialist Youth Association (1999-2005)
Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade (2006-2008)
Deputy Head of Main Directorate for Professional Inspection (2009 – 2011)
Head of Main Directorate for Professional Inspection
Secretary of MPP (2010-2012)
Member, Ikh Khural (2012 – 2020)

Cabinet Secretary  (Хэрэг эрхлэх газрын дарга): MP L OYUN-ERDENE (Лувсаннамсрайн Оюун-Эрдэнэ)
Born 1980 in Ulaanbaatar
Journalist, Lawyer
Graduated from Bers Institute
Mongolian State National University, Mongolian Education University (2008)
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Worked in Governors Office of Berkh city, Khentii 2001-2002
World Vision 2002-2008
Head, Social Development Department of Bayanzurkh District Governor’s Secretariat (2008-2009)
MPP Governing Board Secretariat 2009
Head of Party Organization Department, MPP (2009-2011)
Secretary, MPP (2011-2012)
Acting Secretary-General, MPP (2012)
President of MPP SDM Youth Association (2010 – 2015)
(Sanders 217, 650)
Member of Parliament 2016-Present
Cabinet Secretary 2017-Present

Minister of Environment and Tourism (Байгаль орчин, аялал жуулчлалын сайд): MP D SARANGEREL (Даваажанцангийн Сарангэрэл)
Journalist, Graduated from Omsk Technological Institute (Russia) and University of Rostov (Russia)
Director, Editor, MM News Agency, 1995-2000
General Director, TV5 2005-2011
President, Mongolian United Association of Journalists 2005-2011
Secretary of the MPP 2011-2012
Member of Parliament 2012-Present

Minister of Defense (Батлан хамгаалахын сайд): G SAIKHANBAYAR (Гүрсэдийн Сайханбаяр)
Born 1968 in Ulaanbaatar
Graduated from Defence University (Цэргийн нэгдсэн дээд сургууль) 1985
Public Administration and Development Institute under the Government of Mongolia, 1989
National Defence University of PRC, 2002
The Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, 2014
Specialist officer, Department of Training, Cultural Promotion and Discipline, and Head of the working group on Information, cultural promotion disciplinary work, 1994-2000
Deputy head and Head,  Department of Public Administration and Management at the Ministry of Defence, 2000-2012
Head (Үүргийг түр орлог гүйцэтгэгч) of the Department of Strategic Policy and Planning at the Ministry of Defence, 2014 – 2020.

Minister of Foreign Affairs (Гадаад харилцааны сайд): N ENKHTAIVAN (Нямцэрэнгийн Энхтайван)
Born 1970
Mongolian Higher Polytechnic, Beijing City Trade University, University of Wellington, Mongolian State University, Strayer University (MBA)
Ministry of Trade and Industry (1993-1996)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1996-1999)
Secretary on Mongolia-China intergovernmental commission (1997-1999)
Attache for trade and economic affairs, third, second, first secretary, Mongolian Embassy in Beijing (1999-2003)
Deputy head, Mongolian Petroleum Agency (2003 – 2006)
Head, administration office, State Property Committee (2006-2008)
Trade and Economic Adviser, Beijing embassy (2008-2011)
Head, Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Directorate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2011-2012)
Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister (2015)
Work Service Chief, MPP parliamentary group (2016 – 20)
(Sanders 2017, 295)

Minister of Finance (Сангийн сайд): MP Ch Khurelbaatar (Чимэдийн Хүрэлбаатар)
Born 1968 in Ulaangom, Uvs
Economist, Graduated from the Financial and Economic Institute (Leningrad, Russia), Higher School of Finance and Economics (1991) and University of Sydney (Australia) (1998)
Lecturer, Mongolian State University 1998-2000
Adviser, Economic Affairs, to PM N. Enkhbayar (2000 – 2003)
State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Economy, Chair, National Council of the Millennium Challenge Foundation, 2003-2007
Member, General Election Committee, (2004)
Minister for Energy 2008-2012
Member, MPP Little Khural (2005, 2007, 2013)
Head, Government Affairs Directorate, S. Batbold’s government
MPP Secretary, Western Region (2013)
Chairman, Standing Committee of Ikh Khural on Budget (2016 – 2020)
Member of Parliament 2008-Present, (Uvs)
(Sanders 2017, 472)

Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs (Хууль зүй дотоод хэргийн сайд): Kh NYAMBAATAR (Хишгээгийн Нямбаатар)
Born 1978, in Ulaanbaatar.
Teacher, Orkhon University (2000-2007)
Lawyer, Mongolian Defense Lawyer’s Association
Songionokhairkhan District Governor’s office
Head, State Administration and Leadership Department
Acting Director of Governor’s Office, (Songinokhairkhan?)
Chairman of Songinokhairkhan District Citizens’ Representatives’ Khural (2012)
Deputy Chairman, Songinokhiarkhan District MPP Committee
Vice President of MPP SDM Youth Association (2015 – ?)
Member, Ikh Khural (Songinokhairkhan) (2016-2020)
2016(?) income declaration — 30 million MNT income, savings of 15 million, shares in Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi and Best Drilling
(Sanders 2017, 633)
Member of Ikh Khural, 2020 – 2024 (Songinokhairkhan)

Minister of Labour and Social Protection  (Хөдөлмөр, нийгмийн хамгааллын сайд): A ARIUNZAYA (Аюушийн Ариунзаяа)
Born 1980, Ulaanbaatar
Moscow International Relations University (1996-1999), college in Germany, Hannover University, Leadership Academy (2014-2015)
Manager, Human Resources, Mongol Daatgal Insurance Company (2005-2015)
Head of the Party Organization, Strategy, and Planning Directorate, head of economic policy, head of socio-economic policy, MPP (2013 – 2016)
MPP Little Khural (2013 – ?)
(Sanders 2017, 66)
Chairperson, National Statistical Office of Mongolia in 2016-2020

Minister of Construction and Urban Development (Барилга, хот байгуулалтын яам): Begjav MUNKHBAATAR (Бэгжавын Мөнхбаатар)
Born, 1975, Ulaanbaatar
University of Science and Technology (1993), Mongolian State University, East London University business school (2004-2006)
Mongolian Democratic Socialist Students’ Association (1998-2001)
Senior Political Worker, Ulaanbaatar Committee of MPP (2001-2002)
Deputy head, State Administration, Management, and Cooperation Department, Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture (2002- 2004)
Head, External Relations Department, Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture (2002 – 2004)
Director, City Policy and Planning Strategy Office, Ulaanbaatar Governor’s Secretariat (2006-2008)
Chairman, Council of the Ulaanbaatar Section of the Mongolian Democratic Socialist Youth Association (2008)
Governor, Bayanzurkh District (2008 )
Deputy Governor of Ulaanbaatar (one of four) (2008 – 2012)
MPRP Little Khural (2009 – ?)
Chairman, UB MPRP Committee (2009 -2012)
Member, MPRP Leadership Council (2009)
Candidate, Ikh Khural Election, MPP, Bayanzurkh and Nalaikh (2012)
Member, Little Khural of MPP (2010 – 2016(?))
(Sanders 2017, 601)
Board Member, Oyu Tolgoi LLC in 2016-2018
CEO of Erdenes Oyu Tolgoi (2016 – 2018)
Deputy Minister of Construction and Urban Development 2018-20

Minister of Education and Science (Боловсрол, шинжлэх ухааны сайд): L TSEDEVSUREN (Лхагвын Цэдэвсүрэн)
Born 1967
Graduated from the Mongolian Law School in 1994, and Management Academy and Public Administration School with Master’s degree in Law in 2005.
Legal advisor to the Ministry of Culture, 1994-1996
Legal advisor, and assistant to the minister, Department of Public Administration at the Ministry of Enlightment., 1996-2000
Legal advisor and Head of Unit, Department of Public Administration, Ministry of Enlightment, 2000-2004
Head of the Department of Public Administration and Management, Ministry of Education, 2004-2017
Head of the Department of the Legal Affairs, Ministry of Education, 2019-2020
State Secretary, Ministry of Education, in 2020 before his appointment as the Minister.

Minister of Road and Transport Development (Зам, тээврийн хөгжлийн сайд): L KHALTAR (Лувсангийн Халтар)
Born 1967 in Darvi soum Khovd Aimag.
Graduated from St.Petersburg State Transport University in 1990, and the St Petersburg State University of Railway Communications in 1999, a trained engineer and holds a Ph.D.
A cleaner at the office of the Ulaanbaatar Railroad jointly owned institute (хувь нийлүүлсэн нийгэмлэг), 1983
Heaver (ачигч) of  trade depot  at the Ulaanbaatar Railroad, 1983-1985
Teacher at Railroad College of Ulaanbaatar Railroad, 1990-1992
Deputy head, Loading, and offloading command, Ulaanbaatar Railroad, 1992-1993
Director of the Freight Forwarder Center, Ulaanbaatar Railroad, 1993-2006
Deputy Director, Management Authority, Ulaanbaatar Railroad, 2006-2018
Deputy Minister Road and Transport Development 2018-2020

Ministry of Culture (Соёлын сайд): S CHULUUN (Сампилдондовын Чулуун)
Born 1977 in Bayantsagaan soum, Tuv Aimag.
Graduated from the National University of Mongolia as Historian and History teacher, 1999 and 2000. He holds PhD and Academic title (академич цолтой)
Researcher at the Institute of History, Science Academy of Mongolia, 1999-2001
Teaching at the History Department, National University of Mongolia, 2004-2006
Deputy Director, National University of Commerce and Business, 2006-2009
Academic Secretary-General (Эрдэмтэн нарийн бичгийн дарга) at the School of Social Science at the National University of Mongolia, 2009-2010
Director of the Institute of History, Science Academy of Mongolia, 2010-2015
Director of the Institute of History and Archeology, Science Academy of Mongolia, 2015-2019
Director of the Institute of History and anthropology, Science Academy of Mongolia, 2019-2020

Minister of Mining and Heavy Industry (Уул уурхай, хүнд үйлдвэрийн сайд): G YONDON (Гэлэнгийн Ёндон)
Born 1967 in Ulaanbaatar
Graduated from Irkutsk State Technical University as mining and metallurgy engineer, 1991, Mongolian Engineer Advisor and holds PhD
Researcher at the Institute of Mining, 1991-1998
Metallurgist and Chief Metallurgist at Bor Ondor, Metallurgical Plant, at “Mongolrostsvetmet”, State-owned enterprise, 2002-2007
Director of the department at “Mongolrostsvetmet”, State-owned enterprise, 2007-2009
Director of the “Shijir Alt” factory, “Mongolrostsvetmet”, State-owned enterprise, 2013-2017
Deputy Director of the Ulaanbaatar Representative Office of Erdenet, State-owned enterprise, 2017-2018
Deputy Director, Production, “Mongolrostsvetmet”, State-owned enterprise, 2018-2020

Minister of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry (Хүнс, хөдөө аж ахуй, хөнгөн үйлдвэрийн сайд): Z MENDSAIKHAN (Загджавын Мэндсайхан)
Born 1979, Myangad soum Khovd Aimag.
Attended 10-year middle school in Myangad, Khovd
Institute of Finance and Economics of Mongolia (2001), Management Academy (2008)
Executive director and director-general of a private company (2001 – 2014)
Head, Budgetary Investment Directorate, Ministry of Finance (2015-2016)
State Secretary, Ministry of Energy (2016 – 2019)
(Sanders 2017, 521)

Minister of Energy (Эрчим хүчний сайд): N TAVINBEKH (Нансалын Тавинбэх)
Born 1971.
Graduated from the University of Science and Technology, Management Academy in 1994, 2005. Electrical Engineer holds Masters in Business and Energy.
Electrician, head of unit and engineer with the Maintenance department, Baganuur Electricity and Network, 1995-2001
Deputy Director, Chief Engineer at “Baganuur South-Eastern Region Electricity Distribution Network“,  2001-2007
Executive Director, “Baganuur South-Eastern Region Electricity Distribution Network” LLC, 2007-2013
Mayor of Baganuur city, 2015-2017
Executive Director, “Baganuur South-Eastern Region Electricity Distribution Network” LLC, 2017-2020

Minister of Health (Эрүүл мэндийн сайд): T MUNKHSAIKHAN (Тогтмолын Мөнхсайхан)
Born 1983 in Ulaanbaatar.
Graduated from the Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences, 2006 and 2013, Medical Doctor, with master’s degree in Medicine.
Doctor, National Trauma and Orthopaedic Research Center of Mongolia, 2008-2014
Head of the surgery department, National Trauma and Orthopaedic Research Center of Mongolia, 2014-2018
Director-General, National Trauma and Orthopaedic Research Center of Mongolia, 2016-2018
Director-General, State Hospital Central Hospital #1, 2019-2020

Sources for the information in this post include:

Alan J. K. Sanders’ Historical Dictionary of Mongolia, Fourth Ed., Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017)


Posted in Education, Foreign Policy, Governance, Health, Ikh Khural 2020, Infrastructure, Law, Military, Mining, Policy, Politics, Public Policy, Society and Culture, Tourism | Tagged | Leave a comment

Cabinet Observations

By Julian Dierkes

[I had begun writing this post on July 3, i.e. just before PM Khurelsukh’s cabinet was announced. While the speculation about appointments has been overtaken by that announcement, perhaps some of the thinking behind cabinet appointments will still be of interest. Under the first three headings, “Canadian Criteria”, “Context”, and “Speculation” I have left my pre-announcement writing in place. The end of the post, “Comments” was written after the announcement.]

Now that the election is over, returned a strong majority, and PM U Khurelsukh has already been elected in parliament, it is time to think about the makeup of his cabinet.

Because the recent constitutional amendments have changed the parameters around selection as a minister by limiting Khurelsukh to an additional four MPs to be appointed to parliament, perhaps it is worth briefly looking at criteria for ministerial appointments.

Canadian Criteria

Following an election (but also when cabinet shuffles seem imminent), a very popular game in Canada is speculation about likely ministerial appointments.

In the Canadian context, cabinet members are always almost MPs, though they do not legally have to be. Cabinets are also very large, PM Trudeau’s cabinet at the moment has 37 members out of 338 MPs. Modifying a Mongolian expression, that’s a lot of double parkas! Cabinets are large for many reasons, including a balancing of the criteria below, but they are also an opportunity for governments to signal priorities by up/downgrading/creating/eliminating certain portfolios. The Trudeau cabinet thus includes a “Minister of Middle Class Prosperity” for example.

Some of the criteria that arise in speculation:

  • Seniority of MPs: important to have some “seasoned” parliamentarians, but also important to introduce fresh faces, offer “career development” opportunities for up-and-coming politicians
  • Regional representation: beyond just representation of predominantly English- and French-speaking parts of Canada, it is thought that there should be at least one member of cabinet who can speak for specific regions.
  • Subject matter competence: some MPs may offer particular competence in particular areas, especially for portfolios like Justice, Health or Defence.
  • Political competence: some portfolios are seen to be especially challenging at times, so minister appointed may be thought to be especially good communicators or managers of large bureaucracies.
  • Gender: For Prime Minister Trudeau especially, a gender-balanced cabinet was important.

Interesting to think about such criteria weighing on PM Khurelsukh’s mind.

Context: Constitutional Amendment

Given November 2019 constitutional amendments, there is some possibility of the relationship between parliament and cabinet being significantly reshaped. Why? Because in addition to PM Khurelsukh who also just won his seat in parliament in this election, only four more MPs can be appointed to parliament.

Some of the intention behind the reduction in double deel-appointments was to strengthen parliament as a deliberative and legislative body that may act somewhat more independently of the government and also provide somewhat more oversight. The super-majority that the MPP won makes that somewhat less likely, but still, the possibility is there, especially with the large group of new MPs coming into parliament for the MPP (27 of them). These new MPs may not be looking at any reasonable chance to be appointed to cabinet, so they might look at their parliamentary work in a different light.

Context: Khurelsukh Cabinet

11 members of Khurelsukh’s cabinet were re-elected.

  • Cabinet Secretary L Oyun-Erdene
  • Finance Min Ch Khurelbaatar
  • Min of Defence N Enkhbold
  • Min of Energy Ts Davaasuren
  • Min of Education, Culture, Science and Sport Yo Baatarbileg
  • Min of Roads and Transport B Enkh-Amgalan
  • Min of Foreign Relations D Tsogtbaatar
  • Min of Mining and Heavy Industry D Sumiyabazar
  • Min of Labour and Social Protction S Chinzorig
  • Min of Construction and Urban Development Kh Badelkhan
  • Min of Health D Sarangerel

Even if Khurelsukh were to decide to rely on cabinet veterans, only four of these would be candidates and at least seven of them will not re-join the cabinet.


Compared to the Canadian criteria I listed above, what might the selection criteria for appointment by Khurelsukh be?

  • Competence
  • Intra-party politics
  • Not regional balance
  • Probably not gender

Some of the Canadian discussion would focus on “star performers” in a previous cabinet who would be reappointed or “promoted” to a more visible or important portfolio. Who would be the star performers of the past Khurelsukh cabinet? Obviously, my sense here is coloured by the areas that I follow particularly closely. I do not have any insights into how these candidates might fit into internal party dynamics.

  • Ch Khurelbaatar. He seems to have navigated the threat of a fiscal default successfully, negotiating with the IMF without really conceding much in terms of austerity measures or anything like that. As such he has been unusually visible (to me at least) as a finance minister.
  • D Tsogtbaatar. Like his predecessor, Ts Munkh-Orgil, he has been competent as a foreign minister. His greatest success may be what seems to be a reasonably harmonious relationship with Pres. Battulga, an important strength as foreign policy is one of the areas that the president can assert himself in and this particular president has asserted himself. Having said that, Tsogtbaatar has not been terribly noticeable for any new initiatives, but perhaps the last few years have not been a time for that.
  • D Sumiyabazar. Perhaps the greatest surprise to me in the Khurelsukh cabinet. This former wrestler had not been particularly noticeable as an MP, but really seems to have embraced his ministerial role, seems to prepare well, presents well at international meetings. Born in 1974 he might fit Khurelsukh’s desire to signal a generational transition though the other two are only marginally older (born in 1968 and 1970, respectively).
  • L Oyun-Erdene. He is younger yet again, born in 1980, thus representing a new generation. He has been very active as cabinet secretary, a role that surly requires the trust and support of the prime minister. The Vision 2050 that he has been involved in producing signals some bigger ambitions, but he might also want a specific portfolio rather than the broader managerial role of the cabinet secretary.


So, two out of four MPs reappointed into their former positions (L Oyun-Erdene as Cabinet Secretary and Ch Khurelbaatar to Finance) is not so bad for speculation.

I had not guessed D Sarangerel’s reappointment, albeit as Min of Environment and Tourism. This strikes me as an unusually “Canadian” cabinet appointment as it seems to be primarily a reward for her good performance as Min of Health and the main spokesperson on COVID-related measures for the past several months. Given her prior career as a journalist, she was not a specialist in Health, nor is there any obvious link to environment or tourism, perhaps this was primarily simply a reward.

[July 16 update:]

Alert Twitter follower Javkhlan noticed my mistake in seeing only three MPs in cabinet. He’s right of course, that there are four MPs, the fourth being Nyambaatar who has come in as Min of Justice and Internal Affairs. The difference between him and the other three is that he did not serve in the previous Khurelsukh cabinet.

Only Three Female Ministers? Embarrassing!

It is noticeable that in a cabinet of 17 ministers (including the PM), there are only three women. That is abysmal and not just because it is 2020!

Notice that I had suspected before the announcement that gender balance – unfortunately – was unlikely to be a strong criterion in these selections.

This is especially embarrassing as the limit to four MPs as members of cabinet left the Prime Minister much greater choice in appointments. A number of the appointments seem to be intended to be perceived as “technocratic” appointments, i.e. the appointment of a subject matter specialist of sorts. A number of these more technocratic appointments also appear to be somewhat younger than previous ministers. Given this context, I simply do not find it credible that the Prime Minister would not have been able to find a number of women in leadership positions in the civil service or other organizations who could not have been equally strong appointments as some of the largely unknown ministers that have been appointed now.


It does seem like PM Khurelsukh has been responding to popular frustration with politics and party politics in particular in some of his recent choices. That was the case with his nomination of a number of new faces, but continues with his cabinet appointments where the main message in some of the appointments seems to be that subject matter specialists have been appointed.

Ironically, one of the strongest appointments in this regard is that of a woman, namely A Ariunzaya to Min of Labour and Social Protection. Ariunzaya has been chairperson of the National Statistics Office. The NSO has been a bright spot of meaningful transparency in the Mongolian government, i.e. attempts to make more data available, but also to offer that data in a form that is meaningful to the Mongolian public. While it can be somewhat complicated to coax the census database into divulging information, the NSO has also been very active in sharing infographics that bring statistical information to life for the general public. Here is an example using crime statistics:

Other seemingly technocratic appointments as Byambajav has described them in his listing:

  • Minister of Defense G SAIKHANBAYAR with his previous long career in the Mongolian Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense
  • Minister of Construction and Urban Development B MUNKHBAATAR has been promoted from Deputy Minister in the same ministry.
  • Minister of Education and Science L TSEDEVSUREN has been a senior public official responsible for public administration and legal affairs at the ministry since the 1990s.
  • L KHALTAR was promoted from Deputy Minister to Minister of Road and Transport Development after a long career in the railway sector.
  • S CHULUUN was Head of Institute of History within the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and will lead the newly established Ministry of Culture.
  • Minister of Mining and Heavy Industry G YONDON is a mining engineer with over 30 years of professional experience.
  • Minister of Energy N TAVINBEKH is an electrical engineer and has had managing positions at Baganuur South-Eastern Region Electricity Distribution Network.
  • Minister of Health T MUNKHSAIKHAN was the Director of State First Clinic.

Including Minister Ariunzaya that means that we might consider half of the ministers to be subject experts.

Other Criteria

It is not clear to me that regional distribution or representation of different ethnic groups has been a criteria for inclusion in cabinet. A good number of the ministers are entirely unknown to me, so they may well be Buriat, Tuvan or some other regional group, but the names do not appear to be Kazakh, the one minority that represented politically more consistently.

Oddly (though this was no different in previous cabinets), I do not see an attempt to balance a focus on the countryside vs Ulaanbaatar in these appointments either. Through their work experience Ministers Khaltar and Tavinbekh may at least have lived outside of Ulaanbaatar for a portion of their professional lives while the remainder of cabinet members are probably firmly rooted in the capital and in the experience of urban life.

Other than Dep PM Sodbaatar (MPP campaign manager) and Foreign Minister Enkhtaivan (chief of staff for the MPP parliamentary caucus), the ministers appointed do not appear to be particularly powerful figures within the party. Party factions and power structures can be quite difficult to perceive from the (far) outside, so I may be underestimating some of the appointees in this regard, but most of them have not played significant public roles in the past. Note for example that very few of them appear to be active on social media, for example.

Posted in Constitution, Governance, Politics, Public Policy, Public Service | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

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

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.

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