By Julian Dierkes
Assuming that U Khurelsukh will be elected prime minister by the Ikh Khural, his term will be primarily inward-looking and focused on domestic politics. He will likely establish a working relationship with Pres. Battulga, but neither of them is likely to make any kind of splash internationally. Instead, within the constraints of the IMF agreement, Khurelsukh will try to dampen perceptions of negative impacts of some of the cutbacks in state benefits, while hoping for a continuation (or resumption, given the past month) of the rise of copper prices to bring revenues to the government that might increase his ability to shape policy more actively.
But, who is Khurelsukh?
Khurelsukh’s Recent MPP Activities
Given endorsement by the MPP Party Council, U Khurelsukh should be voted in as prime minister shortly, as predicted by Marissa Smith in her recent blog post. His cabinet will be voted in alongside. Given the super-majority held by the MPP in parliament, the party council endorsement should more or less guarantee his election. Khurelsukh has already announced that he will not change the structure of the government, but instead will name new ministers to existing posts.
He will come into the primeministership with the backing of significant parts of the MPP, mostly younger, perhaps reform-minded, but against the opposition of M Enkhbold’s city faction. It was clear to me that he is popular in the party when he spoke at the final campaign event before the first round of the presidential election in June. He was welcomed like a long-lost son by a cross-section of party activists even though that event should have been celebration the leadership and candidacy of M Enkhbold. He cut a much more charismatic figure than any of the other speakers among the MPP leadership.
Khurelsukh’s Government Trajectory
At 49, Khurelsukh is not especially young, but he is generally associated with the MPP youth organization (Монголын Ардчилсан Социалист Залуучуудын Холбоо) for which he served as the president after founding the organization in 1997. In 1990, he was the first officer who resigned from the Mongolian military to continue in a political career. He was elected to parliament in 2000, 2004, and 2012. He served as minister twice in cabinets from 2004 to 2008, and has been deputy prime minister in 2014-15 and again from summer 2016 until now. In between, he was General Secretary of the MPP from 2008 to 2012.
He will be only the fourth (of 30) non-MP PM after M Enkhsaikhan (1996-98), J Narantsatsralt (1998-99) and S Bayar (2007-08), although he has been an MP in the past.
Khurelsukh’s rise to power is to some extent at least due to the overreach of M Enkbold’s attempts to place associates in positions of power without including other parts of the MPP. Enkhbold’s fall from triumphant parliamentary election winner in June 2016 to his current position of barely hanging on to Ikh Khural speaker’s position after a disastrous presidential bid has been rapid and may not be at its nadir yet.
But even prior to his challenge to Enkhbold recently, Khurelsukh has a reputation as someone who embraces elements of accountability to his party and is not afraid to take on entrenched forces within the part.
Two moments in the past stand out in this regard.
During N Enkhbayar’s prime ministership in 2002, he called out the alleged involvement of Enkhbayar’s wife, Tsolmon, in various financial activities. As this came at a time when Enkhbayar seemd to have a relatively firm grip on the party, it was a surprise, and has given him a reputation of being courageous.
Then, he was closely involved as general secretary in the party’s name change from Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party to Mongolian People’s Party in 2010.
When the MPP’s defeat in the 2012 parliamentary election was partly blamed on the name change, he took responsibility for the defeat and resigned from the seat he himself had won in that election.
His reputation for being scrappy was certainly enhanced by a fight in parliament with fellow MP G Bayarsaikhan in Sept 2012. There are also numerous other photos in circulation that seem to show him as decisive, individualistic and having some fight in him.
In contrast to his image of personal accountability, Khurelsukh appears to be somewhat wealthy, considering that he does not seem to have any direct business interests. Recent news reports comparing the three MPP candidates report his wealth as ₮1.7b or approx US$700k.