By Julian Dierkes
Nearly half a year after the parliamentary election, some discussions are turning to the presidential election in late June 2017.
One of the aspects that will make this election interesting is that incumbent Pres. Elbegdorj has served two terms as president, preventing him from running for re-election. The field is thus open for new candidates, at least in principle.
Recall that only parties represented in the State Great Khural can nominate candidates for president who then have to resign their party membership and any offices.
The parties that were elected to parliament in June are the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP), the Democratic Party (DP), and the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP). All three are likely to nominate a candidate, so we’re likely to see a three-way race.
Also recall that the president is elected directly. If s/he secures more than 50% of the vote, s/he is elected. If no candidate gains more than 50%, a run-off will have to be held, though that has not happened in Mongolia.
Will He, or Will He Not Run: M Enkhbold
Given the landslide election victory the MPP won in June, it would have seemed that M Enkhbold as party leader is in full control of the party and is making his own political destiny.
When J Erdenebat was elected prime minister in the UIX with M Enkhbold taking the chairman role in parliament, that seemed to indicate that he was trying to stay out of the day-to-day politics of the executive in preparation for a nomination as the MPP’s presidential candidate. This seemed particularly plausible since the MPP government is so constrained by the budget situation that it is unlikely to be able to point to any achievements by next summer.
That is not to say that M is unopposed in the MPP. He’s long had a rivalry with U Khurelsukh. But since parliament has started meeting, Nyamdorj Ts has become very active and vocal, particularly around the hearings regarding the “privatization” of Erdenet. Either of these two rivals could also stand in as a presidential candidate.
Why would M forego the opportunity to run for president?
He might be worried about not winning. I don’t have the sense that M is particularly popular, nor is he charismatic. Will voters have second thoughts about handing the MPP a super-majority in parliament? Will they thus prefer a DP president as a check on parliament? That calculation will surely depend very much on whom the DP nominates. The DP party congress on December 6 might give some hints on that, but nothing conclusive. And, whom will the MPRP nominate?
He would have to give up the party chairmanship. Whether or not M would win the election, he would have to resign his party role to be nominated. If he resigns from the party, one of his rivals might make a play for the chairmanship, leaving M with a fancy title and constitutional role (if he wins), but no party to exercise power.
Possible DP Candidates
There are a number of different scenarios on whom the DP might nominate as a presidential candidate.
Doing a Putin
As early as the middle of last year, someone mentioned to me that Pres. Elbegdorj might try to “do a Putin”, i.e. to place a Medvedev-like figure in the presidency to then make a comeback (possibly via a government position) to another presidential run in 2021. I have dismissed that as absurd in the past, largely because I continue to be convinced that Elbegdorj harbours international ambitions, ideally as head of a UN agency or in some other prominent UN role.
The Medvedev-figure would likely be P Tsagaan, erstwhile finance minister and long-time chief of staff to Elbegdorj. A number of people have mentioned that he may be preparing for a bid.
— Ивээлт (@Iveelt77) November 16, 2016
But, a run for the presidency requires some level of personal popularity and Tsagaan has been closely identified with Elbegdorj for some years now and has been visible but somewhat inaudible in that association. “Doing a Putin” only works when the stand-in gets elected!
Another plausible scenario is a candidate who is a DP politician but can credibly run “against” the party in a campaign, i.e. someone who is not closely associated with the 2012-16. That would rule out a number of the people who lost their seats in June 2016, including N Altankhuyag who is the only person who has identified himself as a candidate to be nominated so far, but also Z Enkhbold.
In this category, one of the more interesting possibilities seems to be R Amarjargal, the former prime minister who has always maintained his status as a bit of a gadfly and independent within the party.
A “New” Candidate?
During the 2012-16 legislative period, the DP clearly suffered from its own “ossification“. The entire leadership has been in leadership for some time and seems to have lost a lot of credibility with voters. Yet, few “new faces” have emerged. For a while X Temuujin seemed a possibility, but he self-destructed or was destroyed politically by other parts of the DP, depending on whom you believe. Are there others like that? Some have mentioned former Min of Education L Gantumur in this context, but he was a member of the previous DP government.
Interesting to see that some candidates that are being talked about as possible nominees for the DP have recently stepped up their Twitter activities significantly.
- R Amarjargal, frm PM
- L Gantumur, frm Min of Education
- P Tsagaan, frm Min of Finance, chief of staff to Pres. Elbegdorj
The default assumption would have to be that the MPRP will try to nominate former president N Enkhbayar. But, given his money laundering conviction, the MPP and DP have successfully kept him away from an actual candidacy for some time.
G Uyanga then?