[This post was researched and co-written by Brian White at The Mongolist blog.]
A cursory examination of the platforms of all three presidential candidates (incumbent Ts Elbegdorj, Member of Parliament B Bat-Erdene, and Minister of Health N Udval) gives the impression of considerable overlap in policy positions.
All the candidates intend to fight corruption, reform the judiciary, reduce partisan influence and improve services in governance, protect the environment, make effective use of natural resources, reduce alcoholism, promote investment in schools and hospitals, and continue a foreign policy of good relations with Russia and China and an active courting of “third neighbours.”
Note that of these general topics, it is only the areas of the judicial system and foreign relations that fall under the direct powers of the president, while the other policy areas frequently mentioned are areas where the president has at most persuasive powers.
There is so much overlap between the published platforms that it makes it difficult to pick out how these campaigns are different. But, examining the platforms point-by-point, they are not exactly the same. Each candidate emphasizes some areas more than others producing a distinct tone for each platform.
In terms of tone, Elbegdorj’s platform can be summed up by paraphrasing his opening campaign remarks with “we have done a lot, and we have much more to do.” It does not come across as negative or scary, and it is outward looking and future-oriented. This, obviously, is the campaign pitch of an incumbent who has had a relatively successful four years in office, not suffering any major scandals, and seeing his own party win the 2012 parliamentary election.
Bat-Erdene and Udval both start their platforms by outlining the many problems and dangers facing Mongolia. Minister Udval goes as far as outlining “five dangers” she’ll address as president. In general, both of the two challengers see uneven economic development, insidious foreign influence, corruption, a deteriorating environment, and social degradation as dangers to the future of the country.
It is easier to conceptualize the platforms by thinking of them as arranged on a spectrum from the most positive about the current state of affairs to Mongolia, to a more critical assessment. Elbegdorj is enjoying the benefits of incumbency by employing high-minded and positive (yet not terribly specific) rhetoric intended to inspire on one end. Bat-Erdene is then a few paces down the spectrum. He is using his public persona and status as a sports celebrity to express an inspiring message in safe policy areas like national pride but also employing a darker, scarier tone for more controversial policy areas such as the environment and mining. Udval is then at the other end predominantly focusing on the challenges and failures of the country and framing the future as full of dangers.
The considerable overlap in policy positions lends credence to arguments that the election will hinge on personality and perceptions of leadership ability. President Elbegdorj has the advantage of incumbency with a record of experience in national leadership positions. Mr. Bat-Erdene has much less experience, but has the advantage of personal charisma and celebrity. Minister Udval has much more professional and managerial experience than Mr. Bat-Erdene having served multiple times as a cabinet minister and the head of national organizations, but she lacks the benefit of President Elbegdorj’s incumbency and Mr. Bat-Erdene’s personal charisma and celebrity.
Platforms, of course, exist on paper, and each candidate’s position and areas of emphasis may evolve in the course of the campaign as they challenge each other publicly on specific issues. It is also important to remember that the president’s constitutional power is limited, and a candidate’s support of or opposition to issues in policy areas does not necessarily imply (s)he would have any ability to act on those preferences as president. The platforms are interesting reflections of the candidates’ personalities and the political parties’ priorities, but their effectiveness as a guide to how each will govern is arguably weak.
The candidate’s platforms are available here:
- Ts Elbegdorj – http://elbegdorj.mn/мөрийн-хөтөлбөр-2013-2017/
- B Bat-Erdene – http://b-baterdene.mn/list/plan
- N Udval – http://udval.mn/web/action-plan