The Contested Politics of the Presidential Veto

In August,  parliament (State Ikh Khural) passed two separate amnesty bills: the first provides a one-time amnesty for all unregistered wealth from  criminal investigations and taxation. The other applies to first-time offenders, minors, women with small children and people who haven’t committed violent crimes.  This wasn’t new for the parliament.  On the occasion of major anniversary, the state is used to issue the amnesty.  The criminal amnesty bill was passed in 1991, 1996, 2000, 2006, and 2009 whereas the economic amnesty was introduced in 2008.  For this time, both bills were passed in honour of the 25th anniversary of the first democratic election of the country’s legislature.

But this time, both bills triggered interesting rounds of politicking and contestation.  The economic amnesty bill (Economic Transparency Law) was quickly began to be implemented by the government (executive branch) in spite of  political opposition and public call for transparency – to disclose the amounts of declared wealth and names of wealth holders.  The criminal amnesty bill revealed strong disagreements among political institutions, elites, parties, and factions as well as public.

On the same day of the passage, former president, prime minister, and speaker N Enkhbayar returned from South Korea, where he was undergoing medical treatment, and declared his commitment to establish a new coalition government with the DP.  Under the amnesty law, his corruption related criminal case would be exonerated.  On the following day, the current president Elbegdorj announced his intention to veto the criminal amnesty bill, which included crimes related to corruption, during his speech at the 85th anniversary of the prosecutors’ office.  At the same time, some DP members (esp., Kh Temuujin), MPP parliament members, three independent members, and Civil Will Green Party members expressed their objections to the inclusion of  corruption crimes in the amnesty bill.

On August 17, the President vetoed articles concerning  corruption and related crimes in the criminal amnesty law.  Parliament accepted the presidential veto during its special session of August 3-11.  Here are several observations:

First, the quick, non-transparent vote on and implementation of the economic amnesty law demonstrates the power and influence of oligarchs, kleptocrats, and business factions.  Given the difficulties of maintaining off-shore accounts and remaining under threat from their competitors, state institutions, and population, it appears to be a practical solution for the state to collect taxes incoming years and for property owners to be protected from further criminal investigation and potential expropriation.

Second, the law-making process is becoming too loose and vulnerable to interests and influences of various groups.  As indicated by MP Temuujin (DP) and Ts Nyamdorj (MPP), the initial (draft) bill, which was introduced by the government (Prime Minister), was completely changed at the standing committee and parliamentary deliberation.  This process was dominated by members with strong conflict of interests (esp., Justice Coalition).

Third, parliament members are appealing to the public (esp., social media and press).  The media listed pro and against votes of members in regards with the presidential veto and parliament members (esp., those were in support of the presidential veto) pressured the speaker to release minutes and recordings of the parliamentary deliberation on the amnesty bills.  Yes, on one hand, all members and parties are concerned with public ratings and upcoming elections; but, on the other hand, it pressures politicians, parties, and factions who were not willing to present their standings on important issues like fighting against the corruption.

Finally, political institutions remain vulnerable and have lost their steam because of unruly competition of the ‘winner takes all‘ variety.  The presidential veto added a bit of steam into Mongolia’s politics to strengthen democratic institutions and to uphold the principle of  transparency and accountability.  But, dangers for democracy are out there.  Political-economic factions continue to weaken the state institutions as each wants to take-over important ministries, agencies, SOEs, and provinces – for either wealth defence or accumulation.  The politicization of the security institutions (esp., intelligence, anti-corruption, police, marshal service) and judiciary (including prosecutor’s offices) become more visible than it was earlier years of the democratic transition.  Key political institutions are bureaucratically weak; therefore, influential and charismatic agents could easily use for their parochial interests.

About mendee

Jargalsaikhan Mendee is a Deputy Director of the Institute for Defense Studies of Mongolia. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of British Columbia, and MAs in International Relations from the US Naval Postgraduate School and in Asia-Pacific Policy Studies from the Institute of Asian Research of the University of British Columbia.
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