By Julian Dierkes
It appears that all of a sudden the push for constitutional revision is alive and becoming more concrete with a multi-party submission of a draft in parliament that appears to have the support of 60% of MPs.
It appears that some of the proponents are hoping to organize a referendum (based on proposed revisions to the law on referenda) on changes to the constitution in time to be able to make these changes before the six-month deadline for the election law, as well as a provision in the constitution that changes have to be enacted at least six months before the next election.
Below is my quick summary of proposals for constitutional change based on the parliamentary draft as summarized by news website ikon.mn.
- 1/3 of the members of cabinet can be “double deel”, i.e. MPs and serve in cabinet
- president to be elected by a combined vote of heads of provincial assemblies (amaig khural) and parliament members. This appears to be similar to the German Bundesversammlung that elects the (largely ceremonial) federal president (who just visited Mongolia recently).
- The government is made up of nine ministries: finance, interior & justice, foreign affairs, nature & development, defense, education, health & social development, agriculture, and infrastructure.
- The prime minister can name an additional three ministers without portfolio to cabinet.
- The prime minister would name cabinet, but ministers would not be subject to parliamentary approval.
- Darkhan and Erdenet would be given special status as cities different from aimags.
- The State Great Khural would be expanded to 99 members from the current 76.
- The State Great Khural would serve for five years (rather than the current four).
There are additional specifics in the parliamentary draft pertaining to the PM’s involvement in appointing judges and the state attorneys, and the governors of aimags and soums.
These proposals appear to address some of the long-standing challenges built into Mongolian democracy, especially the unclear status of presidential vs parliamentary power, and would turn Mongolia into more of a parliamentary democracy, rather than keeping elements of a presidential system.
That clarification would most likely be useful and productive. The president would be reduced to a largely symbolic role as heads of state have it in Westminster democracies or some continental European versions (such as the Federal Republic of Germany).
Some of the proposals speak to issues that have captivated Mongolian debates, even though it is not always clear to observers why these issues are so important. An example would be the “double deel” concern that has animated political discussions for the past two years.
Other proposals may just take the occasion of constitutional change to also implement an update, for example recognizing the growing role of Darkhan and Erdenet as cities.
These revisions strengthen the prime minister’s position quite significantly and it is not clear to me, for example, why appointment of aimag governors should shift from the aimag assemblies to the prime minister.
Surely, many of these specifics will be debated in parliament in coming weeks.
As the draft has been submitted by a multi-party group of parliamentarians, it seems like it should be taken seriously as an initiative toward constitutional revision.
Also, since Pres. Elbegdorj is on his second and thus final term as president, he has little to loose personally from a reduction of presidential power. Under other scenarios a sitting president might be unlikely to support a shift towards a parliamentary democracy. If the changes were to be enacted as proposed, Elbegdorj, will have been the last powerful president.
The constitution (according to its Chapter 6) can be changed either by a 3/4 majority of all members of parliament (i.e. 57 MPs), or by a 2/3 majority a popular referendum can be initiated. If a majority of eligible Mongolians participates, and a simple majority of those participating approves the changes, these changes are enacted directly (Art. 25).
This post was written somewhat hastily as I could make sense of some of the drafts with some help, so I’m sure I’ve missed or misunderstood aspects of the proposals and would welcome all information in the comments below!