By Julian Dierkes
The MPP has selected its chairman, Enkhbold M, to be nominated as candidate in the June 26 presidential election. The DP appears to have selected Battulga Kh., pending a party congress.
One question remains: Will Enkhbayar N somehow prevail in the courts to be accepted as a MPRP candidate in the election. That seems unlikely, but it is still unclear whether the MPRP will nominate someone else to run. None of the obvious candidates seem likely to trouble either “M” (Enkhbold M) or “Genco” (Battulga Kh).
The Fog over Democracy
During last year’s parliamentary election, many Mongolians expressed frustration over the lack of political choice offered to them. This led to a landslide win of the MPP, largely as a rebuke of the DP, and magnified by a hastily set-up first-past-the-post voting system.
How will Mongolians perceive a two-horse race between M and Genco? These candidates are likely to be perceived as embodying a common complaint about Mongolian politics, namely that it has become enshrouded in the two-party dominance by МАНАН (MANAN in English), the fog that has descended over Mongolian democracy.
MAH and AH are the Mongolian abbreviations forМонгол Ардын Нам (Mongolian People’s Party) and Ардчилсан Нам (Democratic Party), thus combined as MAHAN in a duopoly of power. How appropriate as Манан also means “fog”. Funny how some of these images permeate Mongolian politics, just think of Монгол Ардын Хувьсгалт Нам, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, often referred to as МАХ Нам, or “meat party”.
The metaphor of the MAHAH fog has been around for some time. Initially, it was used simply to refer to the duopoly of political power between the MPP and DP. More recently, it has been used to refer to purported collusion specifically between President Elbegdorj and Enkhbold. This latter use is, of course, entirely based on rumours, but clearly seems to resonate with parts of the public. Under this use, Genco would not be seen as part of the fog.
How might M & Genco be perceived as the embodiment of this fog? They have been politicians for a long time, have served in various party and government functions. Neither of them has ever distinguished himself by any public dedication to concrete policy issues. Both of them are tainted by swirling rumours of corruption. That is true of almost all serving Mongolian politicians, of course, but their share of rumours seems to be even greater than the average.
M could probably best be described as a party apparatchik. While this term has traditionally been reserved in English for socialist party leaders during the Cold War, it would seem to apply to him fairly well.
He was born in 1964. He has been an active party official for 25 years, having been appointed as Deputy Governor of an Ulaanbaatar district in 1992. He jumped into national political prominence when he became chairman of the then-MPRP in 2005 following Enkhbayar N’s resignation in the course of Enkhbayar’s candidacy (and victory) in the 2005 presidential election.
When the MPRP withdrew from its coalition in Jan 2006, the turmoil led to Enkhbold being installed as prime minister and he served without any particular distinction in that office until he was succeeded by Bayar S in Nov 2007. He succeeded Enkhtuvshin O as party chairman (again) in Nov 2013.
Further to the apparatchik label, M’s main skill seems to be in managing his party. This he has been quite successful in. At the same time, I cannot think of a concrete major policy that M has championed on substantive not partisan grounds. Likewise, he has not been noticeable for encouraging deeper party-wide or wider political debates about the challenges that Mongolia faces. His success in managing the MPP has come largely through dealings outside of the public eye, rather than through rousing public speeches or the championing of a substantive platform.
He is a fairly uninspiring speaker and campaigner. I followed him for a day of campaigning in the 2012 election. In his aimag of Tov he appeared very much as a party apparatchik, i.e. fairly wooden in his public appearance, lecturing at potential voters rather than engaging them in any particular fashion.
By contrast, Genco is a significantly more colourful character.
Unlike many politicians who (sometimes not entirely truthfully) boast about their educational pedigree in a context where official candidates’ statements always include their degrees, Genco appears not to have attended university.
Instead, he has built a career paralleling his political career around judo and business.
Genco has long been active in the Mongolian Judo Association, serving as its president, and likes to appear with active judoka, particularly around major events like Olympic Games, etc. The fact that he also surrounds himself with burly judoka in his campaigns gives him a slightly thuggish image which he seems to like to cultivate. He appears to like to be photographed wearing a fedora and with a very serious facial expression.
@jdierkes While Genco is disliked by some especially business people he is generally popular/appealing to the public with his masculine mongol image
— Manlai Chonos (@Mchonos) May 4, 2017
His nickname derives from the corporation that he has established, Genco. Recently, he and Genco Tours have become especially associated with the Chinggis Khaan theme park that is being built around the marvellous mounted statue near Ulaanbaatar that has become a major tourist destination.
His political career has been rooted in his home province of Bayankhongor. He served in parliament from 2004 to 2016, including a stint as Minister for Road, Transportation, Construction and Urban Development from 2008 to 2012. He is the leader of the Mongolian Democratic Union faction (Монголын Ардчилсан Холбоо – MoAKh) within the DP.
One aspect that makes his nomination very curious is that he was not re-elected in the 2016 parliamentary election. Given all the advantages given to incumbents (majoritarian voting, shortened campaign period, etc.) and Genco’s national prominence as well as perceived control of politics in his aimag, it was very surprising that he was defeated by a relatively unknown candidate for the MPP, Eldev-Ochir L. Yet, somehow, DP members have looked past this recent electoral defeat in selecting him for the nomination as presidential candidate.
There is also a case to be made that Genco does NOT represent the МАНАН collusion as that is often associated with current president Elbegdorj Ts and M. In this view and all the rumours about this collusion, Genco would be seen as a target of MAHAH scheming, rather than as a participant to it.
This case also colours the perception of corruption associated with Genco. Several of his associates were arrested very publicly on Apr 11 2016. Some take this as evidence of corruption, some as evidence of MAHAH schemes against Genco.
Like M, Genco has not distinguished himself by championing any particular policies or by demonstrating an interest in concrete policies that might improve the well-being of Mongolians. I have not seen him campaign or speak in person, so I don’t have much of an impression of him as a campaigner or debater.
Pending confirmation of the M and Genco candidacies and any MPRP candidate, there is very little in their persona or past roles that suggest a campaign that might be fought around some of the very important issues that Mongolia faces. Even as commodity prices are recovering and thus throwing a lifeline to Mongolia’s economy along with an IMF bailout, many choices are still to be made about the development of the Mongolian mining sector, governance issues surrounding state participation in that sector, perceptions of rising inequality, etc.
It seems unlikely that either candidate will address these issues in a meaningful substantive way.
M will likely say very little of substance in the campaign, relying instead of the seemingly built-in strength of the MPP. In his wooden ways, he will look vaguely presidential.
Genco campaign is much harder to predict, as he is much harder to predict as a person. Given that most people would assume that an MPP victory is likely, Genco might approach the campaign with a nothing-to-lose attitude. In that case, he might well lash out at M over the recent Erdenet Mine shenanigans. Both candidates will mutually brand each other as corrupt. Genco has also been mentioned in the past as the type of politician that might appeal to a latent desire for a “strong hand” in the Mongolian electorate. I am not convinced that there is such a desire in a significant way, but if there is, Genco might just have the populist streak in him to appeal to that desire.
Thanks for this overview, as always. It is interesting to me that Battulga and Enkhbold represent very different models of exemplar leaders. Even though Battulga does not seem to have championed a particular political ideology, I think many Mongolians see him as someone “who does things” politically, even if some of those things have not materialized (Chinggis Khaan statue, 13th century park, plan for Sainshand Industrial Park, soum redevelopment projects, champion of Russian-gauge railroad network, fighting against changes to land laws). There was a great graphic that circulated on social media in April 2016 comparing all the things Battulga has done compared to Elbegdorj. I think Battulga will be able to leverage this very well in addition to the image he has cultivated as a ‘strong man’, not an ‘old hand’ like Enkhbold.
Problem with Genco Battulga is that he kind of lost his peak time. Where the elections with his candidacy to happen two-three years ago (when opposing the Gobi rail, and the shine gazar huuli, later facing those corruption allegations also gave him quite a good publicity I think) he would have stood more of a chance. Most of the good publicity surrounding his person has somewhat faded away and gave place to a standard populist politician image as he is seen by many nowadays. A few years back he had an intense anti-Ebe time, there is not much trace of it now and it would be big help. Also Genco the self-made man not being re-elected took him a bit off the map. I would be surprised if the DP would decide for him but I guess they are not in such good shape nowadays and its all about meeting the financial requirements. Haven’t seen him in the media for a long time though.
Well lets wait a few days and see how the DP votes.
The first thing that come to my mind when M Enkhbold is mentioned is “corruption in UB and illegal land deals”. The first thing comes to my mind when Genco Battulga is mentioned “corruption and the rail road that never materialized.” Genco has built an image of himself through the C1 TV (e.g., Mongolyn 100 erhem) and his support to the Judo association. He also “bought off” the Mongolian Democratic Union. M. Enkhbold is from Tuv aimag and tightly controlled this aimag during his time as PM. Both would be terrible for MG but MDP and MPP seem incapable of producing any more or less acceptable candidates.
Thanks for offering your thoughts, always useful to hear perspectives.