As always, I was thrilled to have a chance to visit Ulaanbaatar, even if it was for a mere 40 hours.
Political Mood: DP Partying Like It’s 1998
Most friends and acquaintances I spoke to are puzzled by the current chaos. Especially puzzling is the apparent repetition of the 1998 mistakes by the DP. This is even more puzzling when considering that many of the principal players then, are still involved today (Elbegdorj, Bat-Uul, Altankhuyag, Amarjargal, Saikhanbileg…).
Then, the DP had won big in the 1996 election and had turned the state bureaucracy upside down in the first years of its government. Then – as now – the DP (then still a looser coalition) went on a self-destructive bender that saw an endless series of unstable governments and a rotation of prime ministers, including current president, Elbegdorj, and PM contender, Amarjargal.
All of this ended in DP slaughter in the 2000 election and many of the main players in the party subsequently went abroad for some time.
From Altankhuyag’s announcement of a long-term electoral alliance with the MPRP that was bound to and did raise the ire of many DP members, including leaders, to the tussle between the Great State Khural DP caucus vs. the National Consultative Council with one endorsing Amarjargal, the other option for Saikhanbileg, I and many people I spoke to would be hard-pressed to imagine a more effective way for the DP to implode. The only step that hasn’t been taken has been some kind of splintering with new parties founded by dissidents, though if whatever government is forming in the coming weeks will fall before the 2016 election such a split also seems like a very likely possibility.
All of this is happening in the absence of any clearly emerging new leaders with both DP and MPP stuck with the leaders of the past 10+ years. Where either party does have some promising leaders, they seem to have been side-lined by internecine warfare or are deliberately keeping a relatively low profile in the current chaos.
Elbegdorj seems to have also removed himself from some of these discussions. I would still expect that he’s hoping to move to some international office at the end of his term in 2017, but surely he is also maneuvering to keep some measure of control over the DP. Bat-Uul is likely to mount a very strong candidacy for the presidency in 2017 despite the DP’s woes based on his popularity as UB mayor.
What’s Needed? Pragmatic Problem-Solving
All the political shenanigans seem to be fuelling a desire for pragmatic and competent leadership, something that Saikhanbileg and Amarjargal also seem to be endorsing, though Amarjargal perhaps slightly more credibly.
There is a certain exhaustion with political games when many people do see the economic crisis and mounting debt load as pressing issues to be addressed. Political parties are not seen as the solution to this situation, but individuals and non-MP ministers to some extent are. That has reinforced my expectation that whatever cabinet might emerge will have a significant share of non-MP ministers, wearing a single deel, that of a technocract.
Almost all other questions seem to be answered by “Can’t even begin to guess.” by my interlocutors. Coalitions (including wilder possibilities like a DP+MPP+some others), PM, ministers, all these seem to be open for speculation.