Asia Pacific Memo 161: Bumpy Roads, but Heading in the Right Direction

A condensed version of this post was published as Asia Pacific Memo #161 on June 7, 2012.

Mongolian summary:
Монгол дахь авилгал, шүүх засаглалын бие даасан байдлын талаар гадаадын судлаачид цэц булаалдаж, янз бүрийн таамаглал дэвшүүлж байгаа хэдий ч, ардчилсан тогтолцоог бэхжүүлэх чиглэлээр тодорхой ахиц гарч байгааг анзаарахгүй өнгөрч боломгүй.  Ялангуяа, сонгуулийн хуулийн шинэчлэлт, ашиг сонирхолын зөрчлийг зохицуулах тухай хуулийг мөрдөх талаар Сонгуулийн ерөнхий хорооноос гаргаж байгаа хүчин чармайлт нь бага ч болтугай итгэл үнэмшил төрүүлж байна.

Elections not only determine the fate of governments, but they are also potential milestones in democratic development. With the closing of election registration on June 6, 2012, the campaign for the Mongolian national parliament (Улсын Их Хурал) opens officially. Because of the arrest of N Enkhbayar, former prime minister, chairman of the Ikh Khural and president, a number of observers (Jonathan Manthorpe in the Vancouver Sun, Morris Rossabi in East Asia Forum), have voiced pessimism about the fate of Mongolian democracy. To the contrary, the upcoming election promises to be more carefully organized and transparent, and public discussions of corruption may well strengthen democracy further.

For years, most Mongolians have assumed that their political leaders are corrupt. This has been reflected in anecdotal discussions as well as in survey data and the resulting low ranking in Transparency International ratings. This perception of endemic corruption has cast a dark cloud over Mongolia’s potential for economic and political development. Yet, corruption has not been a serious topic of public discussions or election campaigns in the past.

The arrest of Enkhbayar and several provincial governors this Spring not only hints at the manipulation of public perceptions by all actors involved, but makes corruption one of the main issues on which this election will turn. The veracity of particular allegations against individuals will have to be determined by the courts. In the meantime, the General Election Commission has rejected Enkhbayar’s nomination as a candidate. But the mere fact of public attention to corruption increases the potential for more transparent governance and provides a deterrent.

Mongolian election laws assign significant authority over the organization of the election to the General Election Commission.  The Commission has adopted electronic voting, and has been much stricter in its enforcement of registration requirements for voters as well as candidates, and has placed a new emphasis on conflict-of-interest concerns.

Canadian company Dominion Voting Systems is providing electronic voting machines to be used in the election. 1,839,984 eligible voters will receive biometric identification cards that will be used to verify their residence. The two large, two smaller, and several minor political parties contesting in the election have been required to submit their platforms and to nominate candidates for new proportional representation party lists and majoritarian electoral ridings.

In addition to a 20% female candidate requirement, candidates cannot be active public servants. Candidates also have to comply with stricter conflict-of-interest declarations that include information on family members and business interests. Three current MPs from different parties had thus been initially rejected by the Electoral Commission because of irregularities in their income reports.

The separation between elected officials and public servants has been enforced on the basis of recent legislative changes.

The Election Commission is implementing some innovations such as the opportunities for Mongolians living abroad to vote, though this has been hampered by a requirement for in-person appearances at embassies abroad limiting the number of voters to 2,500 out of over 105,000 Mongolians living abroad. For the first time, not just international organizations, but domestic civil society is also being invited to monitor the election, partly in a bid to stave off the political violence that followed the 2008 parliamentary election.

The road to a further institutionalization of democracy and thus a stable political context for economic development is a bumpy one for Mongolia. With limited policy-making capacity, the government is called upon to address numerous challenges. However, democratic legitimacy may be the firmest ground for that road to be built on and the preparations for the upcoming election are pointing in the right direction.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots and tweets @jdierkes
This entry was posted in Asia Pacific Memo, Civil Society, Corruption, Democracy, Elections, Governance, Ikh Khural 2012, Law, Party Politics, Politics, Populism, Public Service and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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