New to Ulaanbaatar June-July 2024

By Julian Dierkes

I’ve been keeping lists of things that are arriving to/disappearing from central Ulaanbaatar: August 2023 | May 2023 | November 2022 | August 2022 | December 2019 | June 2019 | April 2019 | December 2018 | August 2018 | October 2017 | June 2017 | May 2016 | December 2015 | May 2015 | November 2014 | May 2014 | October 2013 | June 2013 | October 2011 | August 2011. More informal versions of these observations also appear in the /ulaanbaatar/change/ category. I’ve also collected observations about change in the countryside.

Bulgan added her observations in Spring 2022.

I’ve copied previous lists here and am adding to them. New items since previous posts appear in italics. Since this list has been growing, I’m also beginning to delete some items that I’ve had on the list for some time. Strikethrough means that these items will be off the next list.

This list was cruelly interrupted by something that was new to the world in 2020, a global pandemic and thus restrictions on travel. After not being able to visit for 32 months, I finally made it back in August 2022.

What has arrived?

  • drive-home service for drivers who have been drinking. You call the service, they drop off a driver who drives you home in your car and is then picked up again. Given – fortunately – much stricter enforcement of drunk driving laws, a great service!
  • fixies
  • airport road is getting ever fancier, now there’s a giant overpass just before crossing the Tuul on the way into town. Lots of fancy on/off-ramps popping up everywhere on roads.
  • fully electric cars, charging stations, green license plates for electric cars, Tesla
  • street art (several years now, but I hadn’t noted this before) and newly commissioned public art Seeing more tags though. On buildings and in pedestrian tunnels. One particularly common one in one part of town: ‘to be or not to be’. Deep!
  • Prius-based delivery services around downtown for online orders, food, etc. Just like informal taxis, lots of Priuses (?) roaming central Ulaanbaatar to pick up/deliver orders, fleet of Prius clustered around restaurants in the evening to take diners (and drinkers?) home
  • several new parks: North of Winter Palace, Southeast corner of Sukhbaatar Sq, also astroturf on Sukhbaatar Square (summer 2022) seemingly quite popular as picnic spot, park in Yarmag. The park behind Government House is open to the public again.

 

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  • As a specific park: the redesign of the Children’s Park seems to represent commitment to preservation of that open space and greater incorporation into urban centre. The new park opened on July 4.

 

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  • Not just parks but also nearby urban recreation, such as municipal nature reserves and hiking.

 

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  • When I first started visiting Ulaanbaatar in mid-2000s, streets were tree/shrub-lined. Trees disappeared, perhaps for lack of watering, but are definitely back now in the urban centre
  • Oat milk and lactose-free milk. Of course, good health reasons for both, but still a little odd in the land of meat and dairy.
  • Eye makeup with small glittering tears in the corner of an eye. Note that I am not much of a fashion correspondent, but I remember seeing this first in Japan in the early 1990s when it was called ピカピカ, I think. Cat eyes have also arrived.
  • Coffee choices. Not just Korean chains, but more local choices appearing.
  • Taste for spicy foods. Surely this has arrived via Korean food, but quite the contrast to years ago when spices seemed entirely absent.
  • Movember
  • Solar panels on commercial buildings, also on balconies, in downtown core
  • The development of Mongolian brand consumer products, especially food products has been happening for years and I can’t pinpoint the moment they started appearing on grocery shelves in big numbers. While I still find New Zealand butter in Mongolia strange, most of the dairy shelf is now made in Mongolia, for example.

 

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  • So many renovated sidewalks with paving stones, benches, and planters.

 

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  • Yoshinoya – 吉野家. How obvious are beef bowls for the Mongolian market, but their appearance is sudden to me.
  • Shisha bars. I had seen these before, but neglected to note that down.
  • Convenience stores have become a very common sight in downtown Ulaanbaatar but also beyond. Currently, this is a duopoly of CU and GS25. Note that small grocery stores have disappeared from town with the rise of these convenience stores.
  • байхгүй (“we don’t have that”) has become a frequent response of waiters in restaurants referring to items listed on the menu, but not actually offered.
  • Some new buildings appear to be considering the public space that they’re providing, for example through setbacks from the street and parks in those setbacks. One example would be large office building/mall on the way into town from Zaisan on the right before Peace Bridge with its broad sidewalk, plantings.
  • In addition to the Northwest of town and the area around the power plants which have been somewhat industrial, Yarmag seems to be turning into an industrial zone in parts as well, with the surroundings of the old airport seeing some warehouse developments.
  • In terms of city planning, many of the very large developments in Yarmag and elsewhere seem to be stand-along neighbourhoods, rather than forming a part of a larger district. Note that they all seem to have a large supermarket as an anchor.
  • Visible Korean influences continuing to grow.
  • Imagery of Mongolian People’s Republic appearing as pop cultural reference point. Not sure whether that signals nostalgia for state-socialist days (Ostalgie).
  • Blue license plates for government cars. [More on license plates]
  • Men carrying umbrellas as protection from the sun.
  • Big bus procurement scandal in 2023-24, but some very modern buses around town and major busstop construction projects.

City busses (despite corruption scandals) and busstops looking quite nice in #Ulaanbaatar.

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— Mongolia Focus (@mongoliafocus.bsky.social) Jun 17, 2024 at 9:08 AM

  • Google Maps now offers transit connections as well as traffic updates. The former easier for me to use than local alternatives, as I’m familiar with Google Maps interface. Makes public transit that much more usable for visitors even before the Metro is “completed”.
  • There seem to be many more people using electric rental scooters in town. With them, the ringing of bells to warn pedestrians has arrived on bike paths.

What has disappeared, or at least nearly?

  • for-pay scales (actually, they seem to be hanging on)
  • supposedly haunted house South of Choijin Lama Temple
  • Victims of Political Persecution Memorial Museum. Promised floor dedicated to museum in newly-constructed large building on site does not appear to exist!
  • private fences encroaching on public land/sidewalks
  • It seems like (Korean) convenience store chains are replacing the small grocery stores that were ubiquitous in the downtown core. Not gone yet, but waning.
  • Urban heritage core. One building at a time, heritage buildings in the centre of town are being torn down, largely replaced by generic glass-and-steel towers.

 

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What will appear in the future

  • navigation systems. Google now offers in-town traffic updates. Countryside systems still limited.
  • mental maps shifting to street names/addresses instead of landmarks
  • subway (really, I wish they had selected light rail instead, but who knows whether either will come)
  • urban renewal and historical restorations embracing district north of government house (National University of Mongolia, German embassy, etc.), but perhaps it will be too late for that

 

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  • parking (meters), electric charging in parking spots/lots
  • Combined Heat and Power Plant #5 (yeah, right!)
  • hipsters discovering УАЗ (minivan and jeep), but also Porters, perhaps as platform for mobile raves?
  • giant hole blown into Bogd Khaan mountain to “drain” polluted air out of the valley (that actually is a proposal, but it will not appear! There also seems to be a proposal to blast away mountains on either end of the valley to let bad air escape!)
  • some kind of traffic routing system with overhead displays
  • Mongolia-themed coffee travel mugs
  • Mongolia-themed bicycle stands, for example roof structure of a ger as a steel structure
  • vending machines
  • Chinese cars
  • Misters at outdoor restaurants. Very attractive feature in cities like Almaty and Bishkek when it gets hot.
  • In the very long term, current young people (starting from 2000s birth cohorts) will think of themselves as the Prius generation, analogous to German Generation Golf.

What will disappear in the medium-term future

I’m going out on a predictive limb here… 2-3 years is what I mean by “near future”.

Actually, since I have been predicting this as “near future” change for some years now, I guess I was wrong with all these predictions, and have changed the listing to medium-term future.

  • stretched-out hand to signal for a car ride
  • that awkward extra half-step on most stairs
  • whitening make-up.

What will disappear in the long-term future

I mean beyond 7 years or so. None of these seems to be coming true quite yet, so I’ve changed the name of this category from medium-term to long-term.

  • new (to Mongolia) cars that are right-hand drive
  • the neo-classical Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, with its Stalinist (if that’s an architectural style) spire [Tough call to make as the MFA building is now dwarfed by its own annex]

 

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  • deels in the city [actually, they seem to be making a bit of a fashion comeback among young people]
  • some of the downtown university campuses
  • buildings of 4 floors or less in the urban core
  • Russian minivans (УАЗ452)
  • the Winter Palace. It won’t disappear entirely, but it is more-and-more surrounded by a very urban and very tall landscape making it look somewhat forlorn, a fate it shares with many other buildings
  • heritage buildings
  • street vendors with their little cardboard boxes of tissues, lighters, soda, perhaps rounded out by pine nuts or other offerings
  • that colour in staircases and hallways of apartment and public buildings.
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Double Deel Direct

By Julian Dierkes

As Bulgan B recently pointed out to me, very member of PM Oyun-Erdene’s new cabinet is an MP!

Maybe not surprising for many parliamentary democracies, but this has been a lingering topic of discussion for many years. Ministers who are also Members of Parliament are generally referred to as wearing a “double deel“, wearing two hats perhaps being the right English analogy.

On our blog, a search for “double deel” will point you at 18 posts many of which refer to proposed or envisioned constitutional amendments. This has been that big an issue for Mongolian political discussions.

Note that the first mention of “double deel” that the search generates is a 2014 post speculating about Ch Saikhanbileg’s cabinet, a very grand coalition. Other parallels from that post:

The rationale behind the super coalition (as opposed to a grand coalition of DP + MPP which would have a clear majority in parliament already) seems to lie in the recognition of the current economic crisis and the need for parliament to take responsibility for this crisis and to take collective action. It’s not clear to me in this logic why the DP and its coalition partners don’t bear primary responsibility for the crisis, but at the same time, I certainly welcome a super coalition as a constellation that seems more likely to tackle real issues by avoiding blaming each other. I can’t imagine that blaming the three-member opposition of independent MPs will fly as an electoral strategy in June 2016.

Also, note

Some of the prominent politicians who seem to be absent from speculation about cabinet posts: “Genco” Battulga, R Amarjargal, “Fortuna” Batbayar, L Bold, Kh Temuujin.

Two of those individuals, Kh Battulga and Kh Temuujin are back in parliament 10 years later, but not included in the cabinet.

People who ended up being appointed to Saikhanbileg’s grand coalition cabinet back in 2014 include: U Khurelsukh (then Deputy PM, now president) and L Gantumuur (then Minister of Education, Culture and Science, now DP chief and Deputy PM).

One of the elements of discussions of the double deel has been the size of parliament, or more importantly the relative size of cabinet vs parliament if there are many members of cabinet wearing the double deel. This is something that Julian Dierkes commented on in a 2015 post already. Given that that has been a long-standing topic in Mongolian discussions, one might say that fears about this relation in size have been alleviated by the enlargement of parliament. 22 ministers are only 1/5 of the membership of the new Ikh Khural when there are 126 members, not the nearly 30% that would have implied in a 76-member parliament.

Reflection of Power Balance

Direct Election vs Party List MPs

In the run-up to the election, we had already considered implications of the expansion of parliament for the status and power of individual MPs. To some political actors, it seems that a directly-elected seat counts for more than being elected off the party list. The cabinet appointment would seem to reinforce that view in that all MPP members of the cabinet were directly elected. For the DP and KhUN this may be less relevant, in part because party list-elected MPs make up a bigger portion of their MPs. Also, in the case of the opposition parties, some parts of the party leadership chose to run via the party list rather than in a constituency. For example, L Gantumuur for the DP and T Dorjkhand for KhUN were both named to the top spot on the party list for their respective parties as party leaders. Within the opposition, there might thus be less of a perception of a power differential between these two types of MPs.

Party Power within the DP

Following the surge of DP seats in the election and the apparent success of some candidates aligned with frm pres Kh Battulga, it was unclear who might even be conducting coalition discussions to speak for the DP. It may be noteworthy that neither Battulga, nor frm PM N Altankhuyag were included in cabinet. It is obviously impossible to know from the outside of these discussions whether the DP had proposed either and had been refused by the PM, or whether their names were not floated. This does seem to suggest that a renewed takeover of the party by Battulga and his associates may not have happened.

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PM Oyun-Erdene’s Multi-Party Cabinet

By Marissa J. Smith

After each winning shares of seats in the election, the MPP, DP, and KhUN signed a cooperation agreement to form a “grand coalition.” (The Civil Will Green Party and National Coalition also won four seats each).

The following Cabinet configuration including MPs from each party (every minister is also an MP) has just been finalized.

Heads of Parliamentary standing committees have also been announced, and include both MPP and DP members.

Key takeaways:

  • There are now three deputy PMs (shadar said), one each being held by DP (L. Gantumur) and KhUN (T. Dorjkhand). Both of these are designated for Economy and Development (DP), and Trade and Investment (KhUN)
  • A few major seats are now held by DP members. I would particularly highlight Justice and Internal Affairs and Mining Industry. This is interesting given that a major focus of former Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs Nyambaatar had been the resolution of the 2022 Coal Theft scandal. The DP is now also in charge of Housing and Urban Construction and the Twenty Minute City initiative, major areas of concern for residents of Ulaanbaatar, where the DP in fact did not perform well in the election. In contrast, besides the Deputy PM spot, a KhUN member holds only one other seat (Education, P. Naranbayar).
  • While Battsetseg and Nomin retain their seats, only one other woman has been included in the cabinet, S. Odontuya for Environment and Climate Change.

(new members in bold, reshuffled and returning members underlined)

Prime Minister – L. Oyun-Erdene
Cabinet Secretary – N. Uchral (Formerly D. Amarbayasgalan)

First Deputy Prime Minister and Economy and Development – L. Gantumur [DP] (Ch. Khurelbaatar was formerly minister of Economy and Development)
Deputy PMS. Amarsaikhan (formerly Ch. Khurelbaatar, who was not reelected, previously Deputy PM in 2022)
Deputy PM for Trade and Investment – T. Dorjkhand [KhUN]

Finance – B. Javkhlan
Defense – S. Byambatsogt (formerly G. Saikhanbayar, previously Minister of Roads and Transport)
Justice and Internal Affairs – O. Altangerel [DP] (formerly Kh. Nyambaatar)
Education – P. Naranbayar [KhUN] (formerly L. Enkh-Amgalan)
Roads and Transport – B. Delgersaikhan (formerly S. Byambatsogt, now Minister of Defense)
Tourism, Culture and Sport – Ch. Nomin (previously Ministry of Tourism and Environment was separate from Culture, and lead by B. Bat-Erdene)
Environment and Climate Change – S. Odontuya [DP]
Foreign Relations – B. Battsetseg
Mining Industry – Ts. Tuvaan [DP] (formerly J. Ganbaatar)
Family and Social Protection – L. Enkh-Amgalan (formerly Labor and Social Protection led by T Ayursaikhan, previously Minister of Education)
Urban Development and Housing – J. Batsuuri [DP] (formerly Construction and Housing, led by Ts. Davaasuren)
Health – T. Munkhsaikhan (formerly S. Chinzorig; Munkhsaikhan was previously Minister of Health in Khurelsukh’s Cabinet)
Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry – J. Enkhbayar (formerly Kh. Bolorchuluun)
Energy – B. Choijilsuren
Digital Development and Communications –  Ts. Baatarkhuu [DP] (formerly N. Uchral, now head of Government Secretariat)
Twenty-Minute City – R. Erdeneburen [DP] (formerly there was a Minister of Traffic Congestion, J. Sukhbaatar)
National Monitoring and Evaluation Commitee – E. Odbayar [DP]

Previous Oyun-Erdene Cabinet Posts on Mongolia Focus:

Oyun-Erdene Cabinet, Version 01/2023
Oyun-Erdene Cabinet, Post-Constitutional Change
Oyun-Erdene Cabinet

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Guest Post: The Thunder Dragon Arrives on Dragon Year: Mongolia and Bhutan Are Just Getting Started

By Benjamin Nuland

If I could give an award for Mongolia’s ‘most underestimated relationship’, it must be that with Bhutan. Mongolia’s relationship with Democratic Bhutan began on January 18, 2012, when UN representatives of both nations mutually signed letters of communique in Mongolia’s permanent UN Mission office in New York. In March of 2016, Mongolia sent its first ambassador to Bhutan, hoping to convince Bhutan to join the International Think Tank for Landlocked Developing Countries (ITTLLDC). On June 17th, Mongolia welcomed Bhutan’s first ever ambassador to the nation, Amb. Vetsop Namgyel, to submit a letter of credence from President Khurelsukh. As a non-resident ambassador, Amb. Vetsop Namgyel serves as the ambassador to Japan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Mongolia from the Bhutanese embassy in New Delhi. And most importantly, on July 8th, Mongolia welcomed the King of Bhutan for the first time in its history as an honored guest to Naadam.

In its short history as a democracy, Bhutan has established diplomatic relations with relatively few countries – approximately 50 countries plus the members of the UN Security Council. By and large, Bhutan has not been involved in multilateral organizations either other than a few UN activities.

Bhutan’s long-standing dependence on India hit the skids during the recent COVID 19 pandemic as the interruption of imports from India resulted in 15% inflation in food prices. 63,900 school children went without school meals.

With a contested history with China, especially concerning China’s involvement in Tibet, Bhutan has no intension to engage in friendly relations with China. Yet concerned about China’s territorial claims on the border and China’s ambitions to assert control over Buddhism, Bhutan also doesn’t want to provoke China in any way.

Like Mongolia then, Bhutan must look beyond its two big neighbours to find partners.  Yet, to prevent to prevent antagonizing any global power, Bhutan also cannot expand relations to the extent that it becomes over involved in international political webs.  Since 2006 Bhutan has carefully committed to creating diplomatic relations that avoid big power states, opening relations with 32 countries like Colombia, Armenia, Oman, and now Mongolia.

Although Mongolia hopes to build trade and investment with Bhutan, their economic relations are currently non-existent. In 2022, exports from Bhutan to Mongolia were estimated to be $589In 2018 Mongolian exports to Bhutan were just $625, mostly cheese products. It seems rather interesting that Mongolia and Bhutan maintain such close relations despite their lack of trade. In fact, their relationship is primarily based on shared history, culture, geographical circumstance, and most importantly, religion.  Beyond that, geopolitical similarities, such as their common dependence on hydropower, tourism, and mining, and their reliance on neighbors to export their products, also account for their common interest in diversifying their economies.

Membership in Multilateral Organizations

The greatest gain for Bhutan is growing their participation with regional and religious multilateral organizations.

Using Mongolia as a springboard for further involvement in the ITTLLDC would fit perfectly into Bhutan’s foreign policy objectives.  Similar to Mongolia’s ‘Third Neighbor Policy’, doing so would align Bhutan with nations less likely to threaten its economic or geo-political sovereignty. Furthermore, aligning with landlocked developing countries, Bhutan could leverage their focus on Gross National Happiness to create incentives for other countries to establish bilateral relations with them. Given Bhutan’s concerns over Chinese encroachment, especially on a disputed border, an established network of friendly nations could create a watchdog effect and preserve their sovereignty.

On addressing the security concerns of Bhutan’s undisclosed border with China, Mongolia would also offer the opportunity for the Royal Bhutan Army to re-join Khaan Quest, a multilateral defense training program led by global powers like the US, China, Canada, India, Germany, and more. Although only possessing a national defense force of about 8000 personnel, Bhutan can be sure their army receives the best military education from the program. Renewing their participation in Khaan Quest would be important not just for their military, but also to provide Bhutan a better ‘insurance policy’ in the case of military altercations on the Sino-Bhutanese border.

 

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Mongolia could also facilitate Bhutan’s membership in Buddhist multilateral organizations. Having founded the Asian Buddhists Conference For Peace (ABCP) in 1970, Mongolia has been able to attract a coalition of Buddhists from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala, India, Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, both North and South Korea, Laos, Russia (Buryatia), Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, notably without China. It was only recently that Bhutan began to show interest in joining the organization, applying to be a member in January 2024. Condemning China for its involvement in Tibet, Bhutan’s tense relationship with China can be reflected in a will to protect its own Buddhist sovereignty. Collaborating with other Buddhist nations under similar pressures by China, Bhutan can be sure that their voice for regional peace and resistance to China’s assertion of control over Buddhism will be supported by a collective of nations.

Address Food Insecurity & Support Digital Policy

Like its policies with other southeast Asian nations, Mongolia would be open for educational exchanges, specifically for Bhutanese scholars to attend Mongolian Universities. Bhutan hopes to capitalize on this, sending students to Mongolia’s University of Life Sciences and National University of Medical Science. In perfecting their skills in crop management, Bhutanese scholars from Mongolian universities can better address Bhutan’s food insecurity issues, which at one point in 2017 affected one out of three people throughout the nation.

From the Digital Drukyul in 2010 to the establishment of Thimphu Techpark in 2012 to creating an Identity System in 2023, Bhutan has been very ambitious with their digitization policies. Thimphu Techpark specifically was met with huge success, especially with employing the youth as well as attracting foreign investors. Mongolia seems to be on a similar trajectory, passing eMongolia and D-Parliament for online services and government transparency initiatives. While exchanging expertise on the techpark project could help Mongolia address their issues regarding youth unemployment and slugging western FDI, Mongolia can help Bhutan on strengthening government digitization initiatives, improving Bhutan’s transparency and governmental efficiency. Nevertheless there does leave space for more collaboration in the future; bilateral exchanges on technology innovation launched in 2022 have considerable space for expansion.

What Could Mongolia Gain in a Relationship with Bhutan?

Being heavily dependent on fossil fuels, Mongolia could learn from Bhutan’s commitment to renewable energy. Bhutan boasts a high percentage of energy consumption derived from renewables –82.5% in 2022.The greatest force behind this is hydroelectricity, being both Bhutan’s main source of energy and Bhutan’s largest export. Furthermore, Bhutan seeks to grow on this sector, with a $275 million Dagacchu hydropower plant project projected to increase electric output by 126 megawatts. Mongolia, having just established projects with Japan to construct dams in Govi-Altai and Khuvsgul, would benefit from exchanging with the Bhutanese on government mechanisms to increase hydroelectric output. In fact, bilateral collaborations began in June of 2019 when a delegation from The Bhutan Power Corporation visited Mongolia to cover topics on energy sector legal frameworks.

On a more symbolic level, its relationship with Bhutan has provided Mongolia a new spiritual ally in the Asian region. Mongolia has always received pressure from China to disavow the Dalai Lama as its spiritual figure, whether through sanctions imposed on Mongolia after the Dalai Lama’s visit in 2016, or China’s request to bring the newly instated 8 -year-old US-born Mongolian Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa back to Mongolia under Chinese observation. By welcoming Bhutan as a new member of the ABCP, Mongolia is one step closer to strengthening its international support base to resist Chinese Buddhist influence. Furthermore, participating in bilateral agreements with Bhutan, Mongolia is also indirectly supporting another spiritual neighbor and Bhutan’s biggest economic partner, India. Improving already warm relations with India through Bhutan, Mongolia could count on more support from India, a growing global power, to voice concerns on the international stage about growing Chinese influence.

Mongolia as ‘Big Brother’

Being a minnow under most bilateral relations, specifically under those with China and Russia, reaching a relationship with Bhutan would be one of Mongolia’s first opportunities to symbolically become an ‘older brother.’ Although both nations share similar concerns regarding geographical difficulties, national security, and Buddhist sovereignty, Mongolia believes that its democracy, more developed compared to that of Bhutan, can take the front step promoting physical and digital development. With Mongolia founding both the ITTLLDC and the ABCP on an international level, Bhutan’s support and membership within these organizations would make them a trusted companion to the Mongolians, specifically in their geopolitical prominence in hosting multilateral dialogues. And although Bhutan doesn’t have much to ‘give’ to Mongolia, their assertion of Mongolia’s role as a facilitator of regional dialogue gives Mongolia an international status that Mongolia’s Third Neighbor Policy aspired to become in the first place.  In short, what Bhutan could gain from this relationship is material, while Mongolia’s benefits are more geo-political.

About Benjamin Nuland

Benjamin Nuland is a Jack Hachigian Scholar at Yale University currently studying history and international relations. Recently completing the Directed Studies Program, he’s received the Topol Silliman Grant and the Summer Experience Award to study in Mongolia the summer under the guidance of Professor Arne Westad and Professor Julian Dierkes.

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DP Results

By Julian Dierkes

To me, the success of the DP was one of the surprises of the June 28 election.

To my surprise, the DP soared to claim one third of seats in #Mongolia parliament.
blogs.ubc.ca/mongolia/202…
#Сонгууль2024 #Сонгууль #MGLpoli

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— Mongolia Focus (@mongoliafocus.bsky.social) Jul 9, 2024 at 4:12 PM

Below, I want to speculate about what might explain some of this success. I would note that in the absence of polling, especially exit polling, this remains speculation for now. Some obvious questions about this result, for example the concentration of non-MPP votes in Ulaanbaatar, perhaps, will remain unanswered unless the Central Election Commission releases further and more detailed results at some point. These results could be available to the parties themselves, as their party observers will have received scans of all ballots on a polling-station-by-polling station basis, but even that won’t link choices for the direct election in constituencies to choices made on the party vote. So, subsequent speculation must be rooted in conversations I’ve had in the countryside and Ulaanbaatar during election observation as well as afterwards.

The DP

The success? Exactly a third of seats in the new parliament! Of these, 26 were won in majoritarian district elections and 16 were won via the nearly 440,000 votes the DP received in the party election. In the constituencies, the DP did particularly well in constituency 1 (Arkhangai, Ovorkhangai, Bayankhongor) winning 7 of 9 available seats. Among these is S Ganbaatar returning to parliament, this time for the DP. Another DP stronghold is constituency 7 (Govi-Sumber, Dornogovi, Dundgovi, Umnugovi) where the party won 5 of 7 seats. While the party capitalized on significant support in the city in the past, it only picked up 4 of  24 seats in the six Ulaanbaatar constituencies.

Of the people we had identified in our “notable candidates” listing prior to the election, the following won majoritarian seats:

  • N Altankhuyag (constituency 11)
  • Kh Battulga (4)
  • S Ganbaatar (1)
  • Ch Lodoisambuu (12)
  • L Munkhbayasgalan (7)

The most prominent candidate who was not elected from a district is perhaps frm party leader S Erdene (constituency 9).

Out of our notable candidates, the following were elected via the party list:

  • L Gantumur
  • E Odbayar
  • Kh Temuujin

Two women were elected directly: Munkhbayasgalan and Kh Bolormaa (40), while the 16 party list seats obviously lead to eight women so that ten of the 42 DP MPs are women a slightly lower percentage than parliament overall.

Run-Up to the Election

The DP has struggled with in-fighting for many years now. While it had been rife with factionalism even before the 2016 election, the resounding MPP victory in that election and the no-quite-widely-supported-nomination of Kh Battulga as a presidential candidate in 2017 only increased internal division that the party has been battling since then. Substantively adrift under the leadership of Pres Battulga, the party neither managed to continue a process of integration, nor was there even the beginning of a generational renewal under the leadership of such people as S Erdene.

There was a bit of turmoil around the announcement of the party candidate list and there were few people who expressed any kind of excitement about the list. This lack of excitement was also evident in the campaign event ostensibly focused on younger voters that I described.

A week into the campaign there was a death of a DP soum governor in Ovorkhangai. As far as could be ascertained this was a political event in the sense that the brawl that caused the death very unfortunately seemed to have erupted around the lack of attendance at a campaign event. The other party in the brawl was associated with the campaign of then-speaker of parliament G Zandanshatar. But both big parties were relatively restrained in reacting to this news and the DP did not explicitly try to frame this as a political attack. Marissa Smith had included this reaction in her impressions of on-line campaigning.

When we were driving across the countryside and visited campaign offices along our route, it was evident that the single pitch to potential voters was “It’s us vs them”, i.e. if you are frustrated with the MPP, vote for the DP. There was not a whole lot of nuance in that and substantive issues did not seem to be tied to that in any particular way.

By chance, we were in Murun to attend the final campaign rally for the DP with all eight candidates on the last day of campaigning. While a good number of party faithful turned up, this rally seemed neither particularly boisterous nor optimistic to me.

 

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There was a bit of visual excitement toward the end of the event.

At final campaign rally of the DP in Murun on June 26 (Khuvsgul, Bulgan, Orkhon constituency) a mini-airplane flew the DP flag and a crane hoisted the #Mongolia flag.

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— Mongolia Focus (@mongoliafocus.bsky.social) Jul 5, 2024 at 4:09 PM

From these campaign impressions and the various looks at campaign platforms that colleagues had prepared, I was not expecting a particularly strong showing of the DP despite the long pattern of Mongolian voters to prefer some kind of balance between the two major parties.

Results

Clearly, I was wrong in my assessment that the DP had little to offer.

Instead, it appears that the DP continues to have a strong political “brand” of being the party opposed to the MPP that is most electable.

From my countryside impressions this was plausible in the sense that the other parties were simply not that visible in the country, including KhUN which obviously try to push into the most-electable-opposition slot. Visibility is partly effort, but it is also degree of organization. Since we did not travel through the Gobi aimags, I have to imagine that the degree of organization is what is behind the strong showing in the Khangai and Bayankhongor aimags. This strong showing may have also been helped by the incident I described above, but it is hard to imagine that that played a major role.

Outlook

Coalition talks appear to be on-going in Ulaanbaatar. This is puzzling. I cannot see any strategic argument for the party to enter into a coalition other than the personal ambitions of some of the leadership, call it political greed, i.e. the desire to secure a post in cabinet. If a coalition does materialize I would expect the cabinet posts that go to the DP to closely reflect the new power structure in the party.

Presumably the weight of power in the party has shifted (back) to frm president Battulga and his faction, though post-election jockeying for positions in or outside of a coalition will tell us more about that. Battulga has not focused much attention on specific political issues in the past, even less on any kind of theme, so I would not expect a clear policy focus from the DP in the coming four years. Also, as president he frequently seemed to shoot from the populist hip on particular issues (mining, but also capital punishment stand out in my memory). In a coalition, I would expect no more than power politics from the DP, and in opposition, the party would likely be ineffectual in terms of initiating a long-needed generational renewal, but also a more specific policy focus. Despite the electoral success, my perspective on personnel and policy orientation of the DP thus remains somewhat negative.

As will be the case with the MPP, there is some chance, however, that some of the MPs who were elected off the party list may emerge as leaders, or at least as dedicated legislators.

 

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New City Park

By Julian Dierkes

I have mentioned the increase of green space several times in my notes about how Ulaanbaatar is changing. One big new development is the opening of the large park that is South of the Shangri-la Hotel and West of the amusement park.

There had been a lingering threat for some time that this might be developed, losing yet another large parcel of open space in the downtown core, but the creation of the park seems to have averted that.

In a way this park also preserves the layout of Urga with an opening to the South and the Bogd Khaan Mountain, replicating the open door of a ger to the South.

The park opened on July 4 2024, with the likely raising of a large flag at its flagpole perhaps to come on Flag Day, July 10.

The Park

Given the size of the parcel of land, the park offers a lot of recreational opportunities.

 

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From an initial first visit, I did notice the relative absence of benches or other places to sit down, but there are bathrooms. What also seems to be missing is some spaces for skateboards, bicycles, etc. activities that have become much more visible in downtown Ulaanbaatar and that might be particularly important to younger Ulaanbaatarites.

I was really very happy to see that apparently Tumen Ekh, the cultural ensemble whose building had been demolished, will have a new home in the park as well.

Really happy to see that while Tumen Ekh building was torn down, it looks like institution will live on in new #Ulaanbaatar city park.

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— Mongolia Focus (@mongoliafocus.bsky.social) Jul 4, 2024 at 9:34 AM

In its newly opened state, the park offers a lot of open space. There are many paths to go for a stroll, a large lawn area that looks to offer space for families to come together, and lots of other features

 

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The Impact

As I have noted, the amount of green space in Ulaanbaatar has been increasing steadily over the past several years. There are several examples of public spaces that are either open for recreation or gatherings, or that offer some vegetation to urban residents. The largest of these are the National Park and some of the park areas along the Tuul river. From casual visits past these parks, it seems like Ulaanbaatarites are delighted by these recreational opportunities. Even the National Park which is somewhat outside of the very core of the city seems to be getting lots of traffic with joggers, strollers, and families.

I thus suspect that the new city park will be received with some enthusiasm. Its proximity to Sukhbaatar Square suggests that many people will wander over to the park in the summer and some of the energy from the Children’s Park immediately adjacent, will spill over into the city park.

All of that in turn suggests a possible migration of the centre of activity of the city core towards the park. The opening of the Shangri-la had a similar impact some years ago where activities along with retail and food offerings sprung up that were now two blocks of Sukhbaatar Sq. The restoration of the open space around the Chojin Lama Temple has further reinforced this shift.

If the focus of (summertime) activity will be drawn toward the new city park, what might this mean for further developments?

The southern border of the park is the large Narni Road that stretches along the railroad track.

 

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The narrow strip between the road and the railroad tracks is currently filled with garages and other drive-by businesses. It would seem likely that despite the obstacle of a busy road, that strip might develop into food/retail options to serve park visitors, at least during the summer months.

If such a shift and development occurred, it might also bridge the significant divide that currently exists between the downtown core and anything that lies beyond the Peace Bridge, stretching toward Zaisan. To me, this would be a very welcome change with some recreational options, but also a further development of the city centre.

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Preparing an Election

By Benjamin Nuland and Julian Dierkes

Leading up to the election on June 28th, 2024, we traveled as international election observers through Arkhangai, Khuvsgul, Bulgan and Orkhon aimags to observe the preparations for the election and the election campaign. We were impressed that despite the procedural complexities of this year’s election, public servants throughout the country were well prepared with proper machinery and training to ensure that the electoral process went smoothly. They were also genuine in their dedication and diligence in these preparations.

 

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Testing

There was a nationwide test of election procedure on June 24th, testing various forms of machinery, including fingerprint scanning and 3,300 ballot-receiving machines. The staff who ran these tests were mainly women who are public servants like teachers or local administration officials, with extensive election-monitoring experience. If 10 staff in each of the 2,198 polling stations participated in the testing (as seemed about typical, including an IT officer and the 9-person election commission) that suggest that approximately 220,000 people were participating, about 1% of Mongolia’s total eligible voter population (2.2 million). Yes, five days before the election 1% of the voting population ran a test of voting procedures!

The testing included a powering up of all devices (registration laptop, fingerprint and biometric ID scanner, as well as receipt printer; election machine with all accompanying electronics and communications equipment, back-up generator, GEC camera) and sample submission of ballots and communication of results.

It seems that different Aimags ran their testing somewhat differently, possibly due to different delivery schedules of equipment, ballots, etc.; while Arkhangai ran tests in polling stations with all equipment and supplies delivered, testing in Khuvsgul seems to have been done centrally in soums before the equipment was distributed to polling stations. While testing centrally might cause concern over the machine’s functional ability on local internet connection, it didn’t seem to be too big of a problem during the election, as all electronic results were still successfully sent to the soum centres.

Technology

Mongolians often express doubts about election results, yet prosecutions for fraud are rare. The response to these allegations has been the deployment of technology designed to safeguard electoral processes and that has continued in this election. Julian has speculated about the likelihood of electoral fraud during the 2017 presidential election.

Machinery like fingerprint scanning machines, CCTV cameras, and a movable TV to display data and voter ID all continued from previous elections, though the display of voting statistics and an image of the inside of the polling station in the area outside of the station has been abandoned. Although there was some talk about the government sending over new generation voting machines for this election, it seems that the newer ballot machines resemble the same ballot machines from previous elections. In fact, even some of the old ballot machines were distributed with the new.  Although we were initially told that the new generation of voting machines included cameras to record an image of the voter, this seemed to be a misunderstanding.

The innovation in this election was the deployment of Starlink connections, set up in over 400 bag locations. This enabled polling stations with no cell service to electronically transmit results quickly after the closing of polling stations. The greatest difficulty in bringing Starlink to these rural stations was in entering necessary precise coordinates for stations. Once the coordinates were set up, however, this mechanism seemed to work well, as there were no report delays when it came to submitting election electronic results.

Beyond the administration of elections, Starlink also seems to have been a tool for (well-funded) candidates. Installed on the roof of candidate’s cars, Starlink allowed big parties such as the DPP or MPP — who had the resources to afford it — to reach targeted rural voters on social media as they traveled in between rural areas, notifying any rural voter of any last minute rally coming up.

For every polling station, there was a backup plan in case any technical issue arose. Most stations had a backup generator or large batteries for voting machines in case of power outages, and an IT member of staff on standby to fix any technical issues. And although this might seem unnecessary at first glance, it must be said that they were extremely useful during the election, as in two rural voting stations we visited, power did go out, but the electoral process did not stall.

Staffing

The staff had gone through extensive training and knew their 2024 election manual well. In many polling stations, the 9-member election Stab was either predominantly or entirely female. Each staff member was assigned a task to their subsequent stations: A person sent by the statistical office was in charge of the registration and ID station, 3-4 women were in charge of issuing ballots, and a person was in charge of marking fingernails with an ink pen at the exit to ensure no double voting could occur. Knowing that the equipment can be difficult to operate, a person was specifically delegated to aid voters in inserting ballots into the counting machine. Lastly two people were staff on standby in case of technical issues or elderly voters or voters with disabilities needed assistance.

 

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What was most impressive was the professionalism of the election commissions. When we asked whether they would support a youth or new candidate, the staff was strongly impartial, and believed any position they shared would jeopardize the election process.

The safeguarding of locations and equipment also requires a major staffing effort. Polling stations are under 24h police guard from when materials are delivered. In one polling station that meant that the just-out-of-the-police-academy officer and had stayed at the polling station for the three days prior.

Accessories

Similar to the last election, the government had provided accessories to various disabled and elderly voters, including lights, magnifying glasses, wheelie chairs, plastic mats to hold down ballots. It must be said that although voting stations did have accessibility aids, not all of them were uniformly provided for every polling station. For example, some voting stations had lights and magnifying glasses, while others had magnifying glasses and wheelchairs. Furthermore, on election day it seemed that few users made use of the magnifying glasses, those with difficulties seeing/reading being perhaps more accustomed to reading glasses. What was constant however was the presence of back-up staff to aid those in need to vote.

The GEC also promoted accessories to support the ‘no-phone policy’ at the polling station. This has always been intended as a mechanisms by which bribed voters could give proof of a vote cast to a briber. Polling stations set up phone baskets by voting booths for voters to deposit their phones. But while these phone baskets were at every voting station, they were not used consistently.

The greatest dedication to creating voter accessibility was the election staff’s commitment to attain the ballots of every immobile (hospitalized, infirm) voter. Policies were set in place for the first time in a couple of elections that allowed Mongolian expatriates to vote from their respective embassies or consulates from June 20th to the 23rd. For attaining mobile votes by elderly or infirm voters teams of mobile ballot collectors, consisting of electoral staff and party observers, travel to these voters. We were told in one bag voting station that they travelled 160 km to collect 6 votes, bringing with them all the necessary accessibility equipment and party observers to do so. Apparently, this was also a practice during state socialist times.

It must also be said that bad weather, including rain and thunderstorms, posed a great difficulty in traversing these lands to reach those voters in this election. But nevertheless, by Election Day the staff was able to collect all the mobile ballots of those who registered to do so. Even though missing out on such ballots due to logistical difficulty wouldn’t significantly change the results of the election, the electoral staff still commits itself to cover great distances to secure every vote.

Dedication to Democracy

The dedication of election personnel to ensuring a smooth election was impressive and, in some areas, inspiring given the infrastructural, procedural and geographic challenges that this effort faces. If Mongolian voters have little confidence in political parties and the parliament, or if there are concerns about democratic backsliding, this is likely not due to the on-the-ground process of voting.

About Benjamin Nuland

Benjamin Nuland is a Jack Hachigian Scholar at Yale University currently studying history and international relations. Recently completing the Directed Studies Program, he’s received the Topol Silliman Grant and the Summer Experience Award to study in Mongolia the summer under the guidance of Professor Arne Westad and Professor Julian Dierkes.

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How Much Power and Legitimacy Do New Women MPs Hold?

By Marissa J. Smith

As already noted in Bulgan’s post, the new Parliament has the highest proportion and number of MPs ever, with over a quarter of the new Parliament being comprised of women.

While this is certainly a result worth celebrating and it holds great potential, I write here to make some important caveats.

Unfortunately, a closer look at which women were (re)-elected and how suggests that their legitimacy and power is such that these almost all new women MPs are starting from a tough place.

Majority of Women MPs Were Not Directly Elected

In this year’s election, voters both selected individual candidates on one ballot, and selected a party on a second ballot. Seats were distributed to parties from an ordered list of candidates based on their results from the second ballot. The lists were mandated to have a “zipper” format, with female and male candidates alternated in the list.

Of the 32 female candidates elected, only 8 (1 in 4) were directly elected, i.e. voters specifically chose those individuals on their ballots. As Bulgan noted, 316 women candidates ran for direct election.

None of the parties winning seats started their “zipper” with a woman candidate.

Majority of Women Incumbents Lost Their Seats

As I noted in my initial reaction to the election results, only 3 of 9 female incumbents retained their seats. Only 2 were directly elected (Ch. Undra and Kh. Bulgantuya; S. Odontuya was elected from the party list). This speaks to difficulties women face in their ability to gain and maintain political legitimacy.

Take-aways and Caveats

The fact that so few women were directly elected and that such a large proportion of incumbents lost their seats points to the fact that individual women candidates struggle to successfully campaign in Mongolia. As pointed out in recent books by former MP and minister Ts. Oyungerel and anthropologist Mandukhai Buyandelger, in the contest to garner party and popular support for their campaigns, women lack resources and access to spaces of networking and negotiation. (I am working on a post to show this leveraging public financial statements candidates were required to submit to register for candidacy.) This is of course a reflection of broader trends in Mongolian society what roles women are expected to play and in what manner.

Of course, such a large number of women MPs, especially if working cross-party, might be able to shift some dynamics. However, it remains to be seen how much latitude women MPs will have to operate independently of parties or factions within parties. One of the first conversations I observed on social media when candidates were first announced focused on whether or not party list candidates, particularly from the MPP, would be able to act independently. Many participants in this conversation argued that they would not, and perhaps the most stringent version of this view called the MPP party list “make-up,” with young, new faces hiding an old guard running for direct election. See Julian’s prior post thinking about directly-elected vs. list-elected candidates here.

As Julian has noted, in 2012-2016 a cross-party women’s caucus was formed, and this is something we will be watching for. We are also eagerly watching to see which seats in the new Cabinet will go to women and will provide updates here on Mongolia Focus.

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Guest Post: Voter Participation

By Benjamin Nuland

Working as an official foreign observer team with Marissa Smith, I visited nine different polling stations across all six of the urban bags of Erdenet on election day (including polling stations at schools attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and former Mongolian President Ts. Elbegdorj).

 

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Voter turnout had a relatively slow start but gradually increased throughout the day. By 10 o’clock on election day, only about 15% of registered voters had voted, with voters 55 and above dominating voter representation. Around half way into the election at 3pm, 30-35% of voters had already cast their ballot. Long lines of up to 40 people and 60-minutes of total polling time didn’t discourage voters to leave, as many middle-aged voters between the ages of 30 and 40 showed up to the polls to overtake the elder vote. At 6 o’clock, around 60% of registered voters had voted. By then the polling stations were mainly empty, with some staffers submitting their votes to make up for lost time. By closing, around 70% of voters had cast their ballot, with middle aged voters making up the majority of those votes, and the elderly vote in second.

The gender split seemed even across the day. The gap tilted male in the morning making up about 55% of voters and women 45%. Around half way into the election, the gender gap began leaning towards the female vote, as small families, including mothers with their children, came in to vote; 55% of voters were women by then and 45% were male. By 6pm, more single women began showing up to the polls, growing the ratio to a 60-40 split. By 10 pm closing, the male vote seemed to close the gap a bit.

Results

Age

Voter turnout for this parliamentary election has fallen from 73.6% in 2020 to 69.3% in this election. The most notable contribution to this is decreasing voter participation from the youth, with voters ages 18 to 25 falling in participation from 62.5% to 56.23%. All this while the elder vote of those ages 56 and above saw a voter participation increase, rising from 78% in the 2020 election to 82.35% in this election.  But while some might assume that a lack of youth participation was the defining reason for the overall rate drop, this isn’t fully the case. Voter participation has also surprisingly decreased for the middle-aged voters, with voter ages 26 to 40 years and voter ages 41 to 55 years falling from 69% to 64.45% and from 83% to 75.3% respectively. Both cases saw a decrease of about 4 to 6%, similar to the amount decrease of the youth voters.

As expected from our observation, more votes came from women than men, with about 796,000 female votes compared to 652,000 male votes, a percentage ratio 54.95% to 45.05%. Looking at gender distributions, more women eligible to vote chose to vote (74.1%) compared to that for men (65.9%). Seen as a significant difference for voters between the ages of 25 and 55, the difference in percentages consistently reach around a 10% gap. For voters above 65 years old more eligible male voters vote compared to that of women.

Region

There was a mixture of predictions and surprises when looking at voter turnouts for aimags and constituencies. Similar to previous elections, Bayan Ulgii, the Kazakh constituency, had the highest voter participation out of all constituencies, coming in with 73.6%. yet this number seems lower than normal, especially compared to their 80% turnout in the 2020 local elections. Aimags like Zarkhan and Uvs also had some of the highest voter participation, both with 73.8%, a constant compared the rates of 2020 elections. The greatest surprise was the high turnout for Ulaanbaatar, with over 70% voter participation on average across all districts, with its constituencies making up 5 out of the top 7. Keeping on with the trend of previous elections, northern regions had suffered the lowest voter participation, with various northern aimags, like Khovsgol and Selenge, sharing a participation of about 67% and below. Despite these changes and differences across aimags, it seems there is no great deviancy between the most participating participating regions and the least; the gap between the highest and the lowest is 9% when gaps for local elections can be as high as 20%.

Sources for this post include:
ikon.mn/elections/2020
ikon.mn/elections/2024/turnout

About Benjamin Nuland

Benjamin Nuland is a Jack Hachigian Undergraduate Scholar at Yale University currently studying history and international relations. Recently completing the Directed Studies Program, he’s received the Harold Silliman Topol Grant and The Summer Experience Award to study in Mongolia for the summer under the guidance of Professor Arne Westad and Professor Julian Dierkes.

 

 

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Election Results: How Did Incumbents Fare?

By Marissa J. Smith

The 2024 Parliamentary Election has resulted in prominent MPP MPs from specific constituencies losing their seats. Especially of note here is Zandanshatarthe Speaker of Parliament, in the Khangai district (1), and Ganibal from the eastern steppe constituency (6), and Ch. Khurelbaatar (Minister of Finance and longtime MP) from the western aimags (exclusive of Bayan-Ulgii) (2). However, overall, incumbents fared well outside of those constituencies and number 7 (the Gobi). Notably, the DP also took the majority of directly-elected seats in the Khangai and Gobi constituencies, a trend that we intend to analyze further in a coming post.

Despite a huge gain in the percentage of women candidates elected (see Bulgan’s post), women incumbents also lost a significant number of seats, with only three of nine women incumbents retaining their seats. This is also an issue we expect to take up soon.

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Quick Overview of Election Results

By Julian Dierkes

After this morning’s very hot takes, I want to offer a slightly expanded summary of the results of the parliamentary election. For those of you wanting to look at various aspects directly, the Ikon.mn website is my go-to for presentation and accuracy.

Bulgan has already taken a look at women in the new parliament, we will have posts focusing on turnout and incumbency later this morning.

Bottom Line(s)

I am basing this on numbers around 9h on June 29 with 99.95% of polling stations reporting.

  1. Democracy lives. Turnout is roughly stable at 69.3%, voters have voted against the myriad incumbency advantages of the new election system to weaken MPP dominance. The proportional representation system has diversified party voices in parliament.
  2. MPP’s supermajority reduced to mere majority. To some extent this may have been part of the point of the changes to the election system, but PM Oyun-Erdene might have wished for a slightly larger majority than just 68 of 126 seats.
  3. Policy substance still does not matter much. There was no single issue that seemed to capture the imagination of the public. On a trip through the countryside during the campaign, the recurring theme from all opposition parties was “replace them with new people”, not policy on topic X needs to change. Choice of individual candidates and teams continues to trump policy directions.
  4. The DP is back. Despite being in organizational shambles for years now, a somewhat  disappointing party list set of candidates and a weak campaign, the DP has come roaring back to claim a third of the seats in the new parliament.
  5. KhUN did not triumph. Even though voters seem to have indicated a desire for change (though not enough to lead to a change in government), KhUN seemingly was not able to capitalize on that to really establish itself as the opposition choice. Just over 150,000 votes out of just over 1,450m is a strong showing, but note that the KhUN presidential candidate received just under 250,000 votes in 2021, so the party has not grown its voter base. It will be represented in parliament with eight seats.
  6. Proportional representation diversifies parliament. The Civil Will Green Party comes back to life after being last represented in the 2012-16 parliament. It had seemed moribund when charismatic leader S Oyun left politics, but will be represented by four MPs. The National Coalition led by N Nomtoibayar will also be represented by four MPs.

Outlook

As expected, this result implies government and policy continuity. Even with rumours of coalitions, the MPP will be leading the government for the next four years. Cabinet will be reconstituted and as has been in the case, ministers will bring personal agendas and projects to their portfolio, but the overall direction of government in central areas of policy-making is unlikely to shift.

If anything, the election has (re)solidified the dominance of MPP and DP in a two-party system, though proportional representation has led to a diversity of parties in parliament.

Questions

Lots of questions remain:

  • How much of an advantage has incumbency been in the larger constituencies/short campaign period?
  • What about prominence/name recognition?
  • Are there individuals who did well?
  • What about rural vs urban voter behaviour?
  • Can we deduce anything about vote splitting strategies and what this implies for future campaigns?
Posted in Civil Will Green Party, Democratic Party, Elections, Ikh Khural 2024, KhUN, Mongolian People's Party, National Coalition, Party Politics, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Women MPs in 2024 election result

By Bulgan Batdorj 

The results are in, and Mongolia has made history—a record-breaking 32 women have secured seats in the country’s 126-member parliament, representing 25.4% of the total. Of the 32 women elected, 8 were chosen directly through constituency votes, while the remaining 24 gained seats through the party list system. All represent five political parties: MPP 15, DP 10, KhUN 3, Civil Will Green Party 2, and National Coalition 2.

Table 1: Women Parliamentarians 2024-28, Mongolia.

Name Elected from Party
B. Battsetseg 1 – Arkhangai, Uvurkhangai, Bayankhongor Mongolian People’s Party
Kh. Bolormaa 10 – Sukhbaatar, Chingeltei Democratic Party
Ch. Nomin 11 – Songinokhairkhan Mongolian People’s Party
E. Bolormaa 2 – Govi-Altai, Zavkhan, Khovd, Uvs Mongolian People’s Party
D. Uuriintuya 4 – Bulgan, Khuvsgul, Orkhon Mongolian People’s Party
Ch. Undram 5 – Darkhan-Uul, Selenge, Tuv Mongolian People’s Party
L. Munkhbayasgalan 7 – Govisumber, Dornogovi, Dundgovi, Umnugovi Democratic Party
Kh. Bulgantuya 8 – Bayanzurkh Mongolian People’s Party
B. Narantuya – Nara Party List Civil Will Green Party
S. Zamira Party List Civil Will Green Party
S. Odontuya Party List Democratic Party
S. Tsenguun Party List Democratic Party
J. Bayarmaa Party List Democratic Party
D. Enkhtuya Party List Democratic Party
B. Punsalmaa Party List Democratic Party
P. Batchimeg Party List Democratic Party
B. Jargalan Party List Democratic Party
Ts. Munkhtuya Party List Democratic Party
L. Enkhsaikhan Party List KhUN
G. Uyangakhishig Party List KhUN
B. Munkhsoyol Party List KhUN
M. Enkhtsetseg Party List Mongolian People’s Party
O. Saranchuluun Party List Mongolian People’s Party
D. Ganmaa Party List Mongolian People’s Party
M. Mandkhai Party List Mongolian People’s Party
B. Uyanga Party List Mongolian People’s Party
A. Ariunzaya Party List Mongolian People’s Party
B. Kherlen Party List Mongolian People’s Party
O. Nominchimeg Party List Mongolian People’s Party
Kh. Baasanjargal Party List Mongolian People’s Party
A. Undraa Party List National Coalition
M. Sarnai Party List National Coalition

According to our previously written article, this number falls under the “modest setback” scenario—as the number of women elected directly is 8 out of 316 women candidates in the 13 constituencies, representing a success of only 2.5%. However, the party list mechanism allowed for the maximum potential of 24 women to be elected, demonstrating the importance of the zipper system. While the direct constituency results represented a setback, the overall outcome of 32 women securing seats in Mongolia’s 126-member parliament is still a historic achievement. This 25.4% representation shatters the previous record of 15%, significantly increasing the number of women parliamentarians from 13 to 32.

These women parliamentarians now have the opportunity to leverage their positions to champion the concerns of Mongolian women and promote gender equality, in addition to the expertise they bring to their respective areas. I also hope they can come together as a group to leverage their collective influence for meaningful reforms and solidify this success to pave the way for continued success in future elections.

Posted in Civil Will Green Party, Democratic Party, Elections, Ikh Khural 2024, KhUN, Mongolian People's Party, Party Politics, Politics | Leave a comment

Election Hot Take: Change but not Quite

By Julian Dierkes

Everything points to a reduced MPP majority with a surprisingly strong showing by the DP and no major surprises on individual candidates.

Mongolian voters have thus opted for personnel change, but even that not quite. There were no issues in the campaign that suggested a programmatic change, even with a stronger opposition showing, but really the change that was embraced was change for change’s sake and particularly change in the people governing, even if the DP’s offering of potential MPs was not exactly reformist or exciting.

The relatively strong turnout also suggests that desire for some change.

More detailed analyses will have to wait tomorrow, particularly in terms of more solidified results, the showing of DP and KhUN in Ulaanbaatar vs the countryside, the number of women MPs elected, and any strong showing by individuals in more solidified results.

Posted in Democratic Party, Elections, Ikh Khural 2024, KhUN, Mongolian People's Party, National Coalition, Party Politics, Politics | Leave a comment

Guest post: Election Platforms on Extractive Sector Governance

By Dorjdari Namkhaijantsan 

While political party platforms play arguably a limited role in the final outcome of elections in Mongolia, they are nonetheless important since the aspirations of the ultimate winning party stated in them end up forming the basis of the government policies for the coming four years and beyond. In this article, I comment on policies voiced by political parties in their platforms in the run-up to the parliamentary elections to be held on 28 June 2024.

Overall, 21 political parties and coalitions presented their platforms to the General Election Commission. In this blog, I focus on the extractive sector governance of five that are seen as having greater chances to grab some of the 126 seats available in the new parliament. These are the incumbent ruling party, the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP); the main opposition, the Democratic Party (DP); the third party in the current parliament, KHUN; the National Coalition (NC); and the New United Coalition (NUC).

I use the framework promoted by the Natural Resource Charter, which looks at four key parts in the chain of decisions that determine the quality of governance of mineral resources in any country. These include the discovery of resources, getting a good deal for the country, managing volatile revenues, and investing in sustainable development, as well as two cross-cutting pillars, that of domestic governance foundations and international stakeholders. I simplify this framework by focusing on three aspects of mining governance, namely policies related to (1) discovery, exploration, and extraction of minerals, (2) maximization and management of extractive sector revenues, and (3) good governance and institutions.

The comments provided below are not exhaustive and reflect the personal view and positions of the author and are not related to the institution the author is affiliated with.

Discovery, exploration, and extraction of minerals

In recent years, the country has suffered from dwindling interest from foreign and domestic investors to invest in the exploration and development of new projects in Mongolia’s extractive sector. Licensing is stalled, and investors fear potential expropriation amid a lack of clarity on ownership of projects in light of potential state intervention in the mining business through various channels. In terms of mining, Mongolia has actually increased production and exports of coal and copper, the main mineral commodities for the country. Mongolia has largely failed to engage in downstream processing and producing a final product, as most of the exports to China are in the form of raw commodities and concentrate. The sector suffers from poor infrastructure related to access to efficient power, water, transportation, and border services. Negative environmental impacts and perceived lack of local benefits create resistance to mining at the local level.

Let me look at what plans political parties and coalitions participating in the parliament have on these issues.

The incumbent ruling party, MPP, focuses on large-scale or strategic projects in its exploration and mining policy. It pledges to expand the geology and exploration work aimed at attracting investments for large-scale deposit development. In doing so, the party would focus on ensuring transparency in the licensing process. In terms of the mining sector, the strategy is to focus on high-technology and strategic projects. The platform calls for better control of environmental rehabilitation work and sanctions against violators.

At the same time, the policy promotes large national companies and channels investments from the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) to strategic projects, which are likely to be in the mining sector as well. Investments would also be promoted through the expansion of infrastructure facilities and streamlining of government services. For instance, the stated goals include increasing border capacity, streamlining government services to businesses through digitization and automation, and transferring the responsibility of delivering some public services to professional associations. Value addition in the extractive sector is given a high priority, including coal-based projects, copper smelter, iron and steel processing, and fluorspar processing.

DP also included important pledges in their platform. One pillar for DP to bolster the economy is through “the energizing of exploration in the extractive sector”, including improving capacity to carry out geology and related survey and research work, and improving guidance and methodologies for such work. In addition, like the MPP platform, DP plans to focus on large-scale projects in mining and the use of progressive technology for exploiting mineral deposits in full, with the separation of as many mineral elements as possible. In terms of the processing of minerals, the focus is on those with export potential; specific minerals that are to be processed include copper, gold, iron ore, and rare earths. Support for processing is explicitly aligned with the infrastructure support, such as energy and water.

The pledge also includes improvements in the control of mining operations and focus on rehabilitation and the closure of mine sites. For instance, the responsibility for mine rehabilitation and closure will be placed squarely on license holders.

KHUN party, the current minority in the parliament with its single member of the parliament, stressed “the energizing of exploration work.” In doing so, it stressed two policies, namely, to delink the exploration work from the business cycle and price fluctuations in the mining sector and to expand the exploration in line with the global green transition. In addition, the promise is to limit irregular license trading. Other support for business would be through the renovation of mining royalty regime, stabilization of the legal environment including ‘reducing non-tax burden to business operations’, and promotion of processing.  Channeling mining revenue back to the implementation of mega projects in the sector is also envisioned, and so is the sharing of mining revenue with local communities. A pledge to diversify export destinations for mineral commodities is also included.  On the environmental side, clarity over responsible mining and environmental criteria would be required. The Gobi desert region would be singled out to address environmental and social impacts.

NC does not have specific pledges for the exploration of minerals on its platform. As for mining, the sector would be promoted through clarity on taxes. At the same time, revisions to the royalty regime are foreseen, apparently with the aim to maximize royalty collections. The coalition also stresses strategic investments and mega projects as well as processing of coal, and development and processing of hydrogen, rare earths, copper, iron ore and other minerals.

NUC’s platform also seeks to energize the geological surveying and focus on strategic and mega projects including processing of coal, copper, iron ore, fluorspar and gold processing.

Maximization and management of extractive sector revenues

The current ruling party, MPP, starts its platform with the pledge of using mining revenue to address the issue of housing of citizens. The platform pledges to operationalize the Sovereign Wealth Fund and improve the governance of SOEs, which are critical to fiscal spending and revenue generation. Plans include earmarking some mining revenue towards investments in science, innovation, and expansion of exports. For SOEs, the plan is to raise funding by floating their shares in international markets.

DP proposes to engage citizens in decisions over mining revenue and spending and limit politically motivated cash transfers. It also proposes to reduce the debt burden of the government and SOEs using surplus mining revenues and privatization of SOEs, respectively. The platform pays significant attention to the SWF governance, including a dedicated section on the subject. Issues such as limiting political interference and politically motivated spending, focusing on economic diversification, and using the funds for future generations are part of the policy proposed.

KHUN platform stresses megaprojects aimed at both mining and mining linkages and revenue sharing with local communities and limiting off-budget spending through SOEs. Interestingly, KHUN does not specify any explicit policy on the SWF.

NC proposes government guarantees for the implementation of large-scale projects, alluding to the use of mineral revenue for that purpose. The platform includes objectives to operationalize the SWF with the focus on mobilizing funds to it from the privatization of SOEs.

NUC plans to improve the legal environment around the SWF and presumably use the fund for the support of non-mining businesses.

Good governance and institutions

All parties and coalitions stress the importance of governance and anti-corruption efforts. MPP pledges to ensure the mining sector’s transparency, especially in licensing and the use of mineral exchanges for commodity trading. SOE reforms through floating their shares on stock exchanges and allowing public and civil society scrutiny are envisioned. Pledges on fighting corruption include establishing a special corruption court, introducing the whistleblowing mechanism, and the continuation of policies aimed at retrieving assets lost due to corruption. Automation and digitization of government services will also be a priority.

DP pledges to improve public participation in decisions related to the mineral revenue collection and spending, and focusing on improving governance of SOEs and special government funds. The anticorruption efforts would focus on whistleblowing, scrutiny of tax payments and spending alignment of high level officials, and stricter sanctions for corrupt officials.

KHUN pledges to eliminate corruption, and improve governance, and reform SOEs by reducing their number, mostly through turning them into public companies, and the state participation in business.

NC would privatize SOEs and use technology and public-private partnerships to eliminate opportunities for corruption.

NUC pledges to improve the current Glass Accounts system to improve the transparency of state entities, including SOEs.

Comments on platforms

Almost none of the pledges by the MPP, or for that matter by other political parties or coalitions, are new, as they have been included in various policy documents or discussed at various policy platforms over the years.

MPP focuses on Mongolia’s aspirations to move large-scale projects ahead, be they in mining or mineral processing. Similar aspirations have often failed over the years due to a lack of funding, especially from foreign investors. A few successful projects, like coal hauling railway and road, coal processing, or Oyu Tolgoi underground mining, have been the result of many years of wrangling, cost overruns, and delays. Reliance on SWF to fund such projects may be overoptimistic, as the current high revenues from coal may not last long, and the use of SWF is somewhat scattered, as it consists of three different spending channels and only a small portion may go back to domestic industry investments. In terms of downstream processing, coal or other fossil fuel-based investments will likely fail to attract foreign investments and result in the country’s over-dependence on the mining sector while limiting investments in alternative priorities like education or health sector.

In addition, many of the platform pledges are not specific enough, risking that there will be no accountability over the pledges should the MPP win the elections and the platform pledges become the new government policy.

DP’s platform pledges are more specific than the MP’s on some aspects, like geology and exploration policy, making it easier to track should the platform become the government policy. DP policy to prioritize debt repayments using mineral revenue may be a testament to high borrowing rates and lack of profitable projects that these borrowed funds could currently be used for. One can see DP’s accent on preventing mining revenue from flowing into and influencing politics, but the platform is not detailed enough to see how this could be implemented. This can be seen by the DP’s interest in reopening the mandate and purpose of the SWF. DP’s platform stresses public participation as an important mechanism for how mining revenues should be spent.

KHUN goes into greater detail in terms of how exploration and mining can be revitalized. The platform does not go into that level of detail when it comes to managing mining revenues, for instance through the newly legalized SWF. The accent on promoting mega or large-scale projects in mining and mining linkages, i.e. downstream processing and infrastructure is the backbone of the policy on mining for the party.

NC, headed by the owners of one of the largest private mining companies in Mongolia, focuses largely on tax incentives for mining and downstream processing while restructuring the sector by significantly limiting SOEs’ role and streamlining the government’s oversight burden.  

NUC’s plans for the mining sector are limited, but stresses economic diversification and use of Glass Accounts for transparency in its few pledges.

The parties’ platforms all stress the importance of downstream processing. This has been an aspiration or policy pledge for many years now, but the actual results have been limited. It should be noted that all parties still stress investments in fossil fuel mining and processing, although investments in cleaner minerals are also included. Especially with fossil fuels, the risk of investing public funds into potentially stranded projects is high, and the government needs to provide details every time such projects are funded by public resources. While platforms also include extensive pledges on anti-corruption efforts, they still do not provide enough details on the level of transparency that needs to be achieved to ensure public scrutiny over government policies and actions by all parties.  

About Dorjdari

Dorjdari Namkhaijantsan is an economist and the country manager for the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. In this role, he works with the Mongolian government, civil society, and industry to address challenges faced by the country’s mining sector through policy research, analysis, capacity building, and dialogue.

Dorjdari’s experiences span over two decades, during which he has witnessed the mismanagement of natural resources during mining booms and busts. His interest in public policy was sparked by the monumental changes he observed during Mongolia’s transition from one political and economic system to another.

Dorjdari recently completed his SPPGA Practitioner Fellowship at UBC, where he engaged with the academic community, deepened his knowledge about energy transition challenges, and shared his experiences with others.

 

Posted in Civil Will Green Party, Democratic Party, Dorjdari Namkhaijantsan, Governance, Ikh Khural 2024, KhUN, Mining, Mining, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Party Politics, Populism, Reflection, Tavan Tolgoi | Leave a comment

Gendered Trends in Candidacy for Mongolia’s 2024 Parliamentary Election

By Bulgan Batdorj 

There are total of 1,340 candidates across 13 constituency regions and the party list. Of these candidates, 498 (37%) are women and 842 (64.3%) are men.  It looks that the women quota and the zipper system in the party list have helped increase the number of women candidates. Women comprise 32% (316/969) of the candidates at the constituency level. On the party list, women account for 49% (182/371) of the candidates. The 2020 Ikh Hural election had a 20% of women quota, and there were 151 or 24.5% of women out of 606 candidates. The quota increase to 30%  have helped to bring out the number of women candidates by 12.5% (see here for the new election system here)

Women candidates at the party level:
The party with the highest number of women candidates is the KhUN party, with 57 women (46%) out of 92 candidates. The Civil Movement Party is second, with 54 women (43%) out of 125 candidates.

The Mongolian Liberal Democratic Party and Motherlanders United Party have one woman candidate, thus making them 100% women’s parties. The CUP party has the highest percentage of women candidates, at 60%, with 34 women out of 57 candidates. The Good Democratic Citizen’s United Party and KhUN party have 47% of women candidates.

Party Women Men Total Women Percentage
Mongolian Liberal Democratic Party 1 0 1 100%
Motherlanders United Party 1 0 1 100%
CUP 34 23 57 60%
Good Democratic Citizen’s United Party 26 29 55 47%
KhUN 57 65 122 47%
Civil Movement Party 54 70 124 44%
Civil Will Green Party 30 42 72 42%
Mongolian Conservative Party 9 13 22 41%
National Coalition 28 41 69 41%
True and Righteous Party 32 48 80 40%
Republic Party 21 33 54 39%
People’s Power Party 23 37 60 38%
People’s Majoritarian Governance Party 26 45 71 37%
Motherland Party 15 28 43 35%
For the Mongolian People’s Party 14 28 42 33%
Mongolian Social Democratic Party 2 4 6 33%
New United Coalition 28 62 90 31%
Freedom Implementer Party 9 21 30 30%
Freedom Coalition Party 14 33 47 30%
Democratic Party 37 89 126 29%
Mongolian People’s Party 37 89 126 29%
Independent candidate 0 42 42 0%

The ruling MPP and opposition DP party have 37 women candidates, representing 29.4% of their total candidates. All the other 19 parties have reached the quota of 30% women representation.

Women candidates at the constituency level:
The constituencies with the highest number of women candidates are Constituency 5 (Darkhan-Uul, Selenge, and Tuv), with 41 women out of 119 candidates, and Bayanzurkh, with 36 women out of 83 candidates. The constituency with the highest percentage of women candidates is Constituency 12 (Baganuur, Bagakhangai, Nalaikh), where 14 out of 32 total candidates (44%) are women who are competing for two seats only.

Constituency Female Male Grand Total Number of seats per Constituency
3 – Bayan-Ulgii 4 19 23 3
13 – Baganuur, Bagakhangai, Nalaikh 14 18 32 2
9 – Bayangol 16 34 50 3
12 – Khan-Uul 19 30 49 3
6 – Dornod, Sukhbaatar, Khentii 22 54 76 7
2 – Govi-Altai, Zavkhan, Khovd, Uvs 25 90 115 10
4 – Bulgan, Khuvsgul, Orkhon 25 61 86 8
1 – Arkhangai, Uvurkhangai, Bayankhongor 26 54 80 9
11 – Songinokhairkhan 27 58 85 5
10 – Sukhbaatar, Chingeltei 30 63 93 6
7 – Govisumber, Dornogovi, Dundgovi, Umnugovi 31 47 78 7
8 – Bayanzurkh 36 47 83 5
5 – Darkhan-Uul, Selenge, Tuv 41 78 119 10

Constituency 3 (Bayan-Ulgii) has the fewest women candidates, with four out of 23 candidates running for 3 seats. Constituency 2 (Govi-Altai, Zavkhan, Khovd, and Uvs) has the second-lowest female representation, with 25 out of 115 candidates running for ten seats.

Women candidates in general:

It is disappointing that the ruling party, MPP, and the main opposition DP have not only a broken zipper in the party list, nominating 23 women and 25 men instead of 24 each but also have not met the quota of 30% overall. They have nominated 37 women, representing 29.4% of women. The reasons behind this are not the lack of qualified women candidates but rather an entrenched/paternal party culture and old-boys networks in these parties and the lack of these parties’ institutional commitments to gender equity.

Among the remaining 19 parties, two met the 30% quota, and 16 exceeded this quota with an average representation of 47%. Even if the two parties have only one woman representation removed, the average women representation is 40%.

Another interesting thing with the candidates is that all 42 independent candidates are male, and two women candidates are running from two minor parties, the Mongolian Liberal Democratic Party and Motherlanders United Party.

Note: I used the Сонгууль 2024 (ikon.mn) and supplemented the information with candidate.mn – Бие Даагч in identifying the genders.

 

Posted in Bulgan Batdorj, Democracy, Democratic Party, Gender, Ikh Khural 2024, Inequality, KhUN, Mongolian People's Party, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment