2012 local elections: pre-election observation and analysis

A record high over 19,000 candidates will run for the upcoming local elections slated for November 21 (A festival of democracy!). Seven political parties, two coalitions, and 893 independents will compete for the 8108 seats of Citizens’ Representative Khurals of aimags (provinces, 745 seats) and soums (counties, 7068 seats) and districts of Ulaanbaatar (295 seats). Two weeks of election campaigning have ended and Mongolians will vote for their local representatives tomorrow.

Voter turnout for the parliamentary election in June 2012 hit a record low of 65%, declining nearly 10% from the previous election. Voter turnout for local elections has been lower than parliamentary elections and it was 66% in 2008. Considering the low turnout in June we may see a number of run-off elections in Ulaanbaatar where voter turnout has been significantly lower than provinces. The festival needs more visitors and judges.

This year’s election differs from previous elections in several ways.

First, one reason of why the local elections attract much attention from political parties and independent candidates might be the new budget law. The law provides more opportunities for local governments to accumulate and spend local revenues as an effort to diffuse over-centralization. From next year, local governors, for example, will have more authority on local budget planning and spending.

Second, the new local election law was adopted by parliament. It introduced a number of important changes and innovations. Like the new parliamentary election system, the local elections will be organized under a mixed electoral system. One third of the members of the Citizens’ Representatives Khurals will be nominated from the political party list while the remaining two third will be elected through the majoritarian system. A similar mixed electoral system was used in the 1996 local elections, but a majoritarian system had been applied since 2000. This new system will likely to allow smaller political parties to have more representation than a majoritarian electoral system. Moreover, the local elections will use electronic counting, new personal identification cards, and biometrics to identify and check registered voters. In addition, political parties were required to follow a 30% gender quota when they nominated their candidates. More women are expected to enter local Khurals and acquire local government posts.

The result of the 2012 parliamentary election left the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Mongolian People’s Party in a political situation in which either needs big win in local elections. The DP needs to have local institutional channels that would allow smooth and effective policy implementation. One obstacle of the DP’s policy effectiveness during 1996-2000 when the party led the government could be that the MPP controlled much of the local government. For individual members of parliaments it is also necessary to have local institutional bases via inserting own representations in local government institutions.

The opposition Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) faces much tougher test at the local elections. Since the inception of local elections in 1992, the MPP has been the majority party in most provinces and districts of Ulaanbaatar. In particular, since 2000 when the MPP became the absolute majority in parliament it could significantly cement its local dominance. Of 693 seats of Citizens’ Representatives Khurals of provinces and Ulaanbaatar the MPP won 569 seats or 82% of all seats in 2000. Since then the MPP has maintained its dominance (Table 1). Although the MPP’s number of seats in the Citizens’ Representatives Khurals decreased in 2004 (64%) and 2008 (62%), it still controlled the majority of provinces and Ulaanbaatar. Of 21 provinces, the MPP was the majority party in 17 provinces (See, Table 2). Moreover, the MPP controlled all districts (duureg) and satellite cities of Ulaanbaatar except the Khan-Uul district where the DP constituted the majority.

However, the MPP’s strength and confidence in local elections has ebbed since the election of the City Council or the Ulaanbaatar city’s Citizens’ Representatives Khural in June 2012, which was held simultaneously with the parliamentary election. The MPP had continuously dominated the City Council. Most recently, the MPP held 36 seats of the City Council’s 45 seats in the period between 2008 and 2012. So, it was a devastating result for the MPP to lose the control over the City Council this year. The DP won big in Ulaanbaatar in June in both the parliamentary and City Council’s elections. The DP’s successful campaign led by its preeminent leader Erdeniin Bat-Uul earned them 26 seats, enabling the DP to govern the Ulaanbaatar city the first time. Except two run-off elections in which at least one MPP candidate will be elected to parliament, the MPP has not won a seat in parliament from Ulaanbaatar.

The new local election law requires that the elections should be held on Wednesday of the fourth week of November. Unlike previous local elections that held in the early-October, the new law has provided a longer period or broader opportunity for the ruling party and coalition to formulate their policy and implement concrete programs that would gain them public support. During the last three months the new governor of Ulaanbaatar city E.Bat-Uul and his administration gained much support for their quick action to tackle with traffic jams, to improve public transportation, and to suspend illegal construction works and land ownership. Moreover, Prime Minister Norovyn Altankhuyag’s new initiative to reduce the price of coal for Ulaanbaatar’s ger district residents has seemed to be widely appreciated, adding strength to the DP’s campaign in the city. Thus, the MPP will have tough test in Ulaanbaatar and might lose their dominance in most districts.

It seems that the MPP has expended much effort in provinces and soums (districts). In the system of the MPP, the work of local party leaders or the governors of aimags have often been a step towards preparing to run in parliamentary elections. In provinces and soums, the party has had a well-functioning network of election mobilization comprising a large number of local government officials, local business connections, and party members. The vertical relations between the central and local units of the MPP are well institutionalized and there have been little local resistance to the elites at the top. A number of leading MPP members moved from Ulaanbaatar to provinces like Umnugovi to run for the local elections.

However, the MPP has some challenges there, as well. First, like the last parliamentary election in June, the Mongolian-People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) will be an annoying contender and will likely to attract some voters from the MPP. Even though the MPRP is in the coalition government, the party runs for the local elections independently. But in some electoral districts the MPRP is in coalition with the Mongolian National Democratic Party (MNDP) or with the Civil-Will and Green Party (CWGP). Second, over ten aimag governors who are all MPP members have been investigated by the Independent Agency against Corruption during the last couple of years, apparently humiliating the public image of their party. Third, the MPP did not propose an alternative, catching manifesto or policy priorities. The party’s electoral campaign largely focused on the critique of the ruling coalition, sending a message that the MPP will constrain and resist the unlimited power of the rulers. This might not be a good strategy and would not bring more seats for the party. According social media sources, there have already been open discussions within the party about a looming crisis of leadership and policy innovations in the party. If the MPP loses in the local elections it may prompt to a major intra-party reform or reshuffle in the party.

Meanwhile, the DP insists on the effective implementation of the coalition government’s program and asks the electorate to help them to increase their representation in local governments. While the DP may win big in Ulaanbaatar, it will likely to be difficult for them to have a massive victory in provinces. The defeat in the local elections would give the DP much-needed institutional infrastructure that could help the government policy to be implemented smoothly. It is also an opportunity to strengthen local party organizations, which is same for other smaller parties, as well.

See posts earlier this year for analysis of the June parliamentary election.

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