An Outlook on an Amarjargal or Saikhanbileg-led Government

The signs at the moment suggest that Saikhanbileg will end up as the next prime minister of Mongolia. Given his past association with Pres. Elbegdorj, it would seem like his nomination to parliament should go through. That leaves the question of the coalition that would support him as PM, especially after the DP seems to have opened the door to discussions with all parties.

Yet, the DP seems to also have exhibited a bit of a self-destructive streak recently, so who knows what might still happen. If Z Enkhbold is able to consolidate some authority if not power over the party, perhaps that will settle some of the internecine warfare.

Coalitions

Whether the new PM is able to make progress on some very important issues will depend to a large extent on the coalition that will be assembled. Put very briefly, I don’t have much confidence in the previous constellation (DP + Justice Coalition + CWGP). The DP has been bogged down in factional warfare and seems to be a bit of a deer-in-the-headlights regarding some of the economic challenges and the 2016 election. It’s hard to think of the Justice Coalition as a constructive force in politics and MPs Oyun and Demberel’s influence is naturally limited. So, independent of who ends up being PM, a renewal of the current coalition would lower my confidence that significant movement on OT, the fiscal situation, other pressing issues is likely to happen in the next six months. Beyond that, the 2016 election will begin to loom.

A grand coalition with the MPP, by contrast, would at least hold the promise of more decisive action that would have a broad enough majority to not be threatened by caucus-internal debates.

Leadership: Amarjargal vs. Saikhanbileg

Amarjargal

I don’t quite buy the “technocrat” narrative on Amarjargal. Yes, he’s been an academic in the past, but he hasn’t really been running any larger scale public administration effort that would give him the managerial experience and drive to steer the government ship in a different direction. And his academic merits are also fairly domestic in nature and somewhat limited. However, his technocrat image might speak to a desire to devise policies for their substantive impact, not necessarily for political/electoral expediency. That would obviously be a welcome shift.

His somewhat maverick instincts and apparent stubbornness could be a great thing, of course, but only if he picks some constructive policies to be stubborn about and it’s not clear to me that we really know what direction he might go. I find it hard to imagine him working with the previous coalition effectively given DP shakiness and Justice Coalition intransigence.

Saikhanbileg

And Saikhanbileg? I have had a chance in the past to spend some time with him and had a good conversation, he certainly made a positive impression in terms of his substantive knowledge and interests. But is he not fairly similar to someone like Altankhuyag, i.e. focused on managing party concerns with a bit of the implication of being in government for government’s sake, not for the nation’s or the people’s sake? He is of a younger generation and would represent a step away from the original democracy activists in the DP. But so far, the younger generation of DP politicians has not really stood out for any specific substantive policies that they have embraced that would distinguish them from Elebgdorj, Bat-Uul and that generation of leaders.

Would either of them initiate a wholesale personnel rotation again? This has done such harm in the past, including the past two years by destabilizing the government apparatus and forcing people into unfamiliar positions. The fact that Saikhanbileg has been part of the government for the past two years suggests that he may well leave many ministerial posts (beyond the ministers themselves) alone, while Amarjargal’s maverick instincts might lead him to replace more people.

My big question, of course, is: how likely is either to make progress on OT and get some other matters (fiscal, etc.) sorted? In the end I think the coalition may be more important than the PM on that matter.

Cabinet

I wouldn’t dare to guess whom the next PM might appoint to cabinet. One of the initial questions might be whether the new PM goes with the 13 ministries reform initiated by Altankhuyag. That has only been in place for such a short time that I don’t imagine it’s really cast in stone. On the other hand, why expand cabinet again after the double-deel debates of the Spring, etc.

It’s hard to imagine either coalition scenario producing a cabinet that would be dominated in any way by non-MPs with significant substantive qualifications. Amarjargal’s technocratic image and lack of strong faction ties/obligations might lead one to expect that he would exert his influence more in the direction of somewhat more independent ministers.

In a grand coalition, the main question would be what ministries the MPP would bargain for. M Enkhbold is not a politician that many people would expect decisive action on substantive files on, so the MPP ministers and their portfolios might play a significant role in decisions the government might make.

Some of the ministers that have been performing well in the previous government (Bold as FM, Oyun for Green Development, Oyungerel for Culture) are probably relatively unlikely to be in cabinet again.

Comments?

As always, I assume that some of my understanding of the current political context in Mongolia will be off and welcome corrections and comments using the blog’s comment function.

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1 Response to An Outlook on an Amarjargal or Saikhanbileg-led Government

  1. Mendee says:

    Who would be the next Prime Minister – is no longer interesting question at all.
    The important aspect is how to build up trust with foreign investors (including two neighbours), between political parties (esp., among DP and MPP), among party factions – the most importantly with public servants and people. The great danger in Mongolia is the trust deficit because no one keeps one’s promises [i.e., institutions – laws, regulations, policies].

    Both Amarjargal and Saikhanbileg well-experienced politicians – indeed, Amarjargal does have rich portfolio of being called a technocrat. The major difference seems to me – one stands for moral principles while the other stands for factional interests.

    Unless our political leaders tame their greed (material interests), none of them will win. If they continue to set the precedents of being greedy, irresponsible, immoral, and wishy-washy, we would expect a weak bureaucracy (state institutions) and shaky politics (bargaining game) dominated by individuals and factions [i.e., two major parties, party-equivalent individuals – Enkhbayar, Enkhsaikhan, Jargalsaikhan, and Oyun, business factions, and provincial factions like Uvs Province].

    This would create two expectations:

    The more internal forces disagree over basic foreign policy objectives (e.g., FDI), the greater incentives for foreigners to intervene because any policy outcomes exacerbates the internal disagreements that could easily affect their (foreigners – major powers) interests.

    The more frustrated with the performance of the government and distrust among politicians are, the greater expectations and desire for the authoritarian leaders.

    Hope we could by-pass this traps – of foreign interventions (i.e., the Great Game) and authoritarian regimes. It seems all politicians know about it, but the greed still dominates. So, who will the next PM or Ministers are very interesting questions for only those candidates, but not investors, neighbours, and citizens. Give us a break, keep your promise [at least try].

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