A New Prime Minister: Same Politics or Reform?

By Mendee J

The election of U Khurelsukh as Prime Minister and surrounding politicking raise two interesting questions:

(1) Do they (so-called reformist faction of the MPP) mean business and want to reform the party?   Or, is the ‘second echelon’ of the MPP taking over the executive offices?

(2) If they mean business, will they have the resolve and resilience to overcome the deeply entrenched patronage politics within the party and government institutions?

Khurelsukh’s answers at the parliamentary sessions as well as the speech made some indications that he seems to be serious about the reform.  He pledged to keep his promises of strengthening the bureaucracy, fighting against corruptions, and upholding the rule of law.  Interestingly, at the end of his first speech as Prime Minister, he made the only, specific request (probably aimed at his party inner circle)

“Please don’t ask or pressure me and my cabinet to do anything unlawful. I would obey the law.” (link)

Obviously, time will tell whether Khurelsukh and his colleagues can reform the country’s most-corrupt institutions (i.e., the political party according to pundits, studies, and polls); thus have long-term implications for the party, the government, and the state.

If they can clean or at least marginalize the patronage network within the ruling and largest political party, the MPP would have a good standing in upcoming elections in 2020.  If they can prioritize professionalism, rule of law, and accountability within government institutions (ministries, agencies, and provincial authorities), this would result in effective governance at least in the next two years.  If they can provide ‘true’ autonomy to judiciary and law-enforcement agencies and demand the professionalism from these institutions, the statehood would be enhanced and respected.

Second Noticeable Push for the MPP Reform

This appears to be the second noticeable push within the MPP to rid the party of cronyism and clientelism since 2007.  In December 2007, another charismatic leader, S Bayar, and his faction called for the party reform and introduced the most technocratic cabinet. Despite strong public support for his reformist agenda, his team was overwhelmed by the financial crisis of 2007-08, July 1 rioting over the disputed election, and backlash of the defeated factions within the party.  Frankly, the reform for fixing the oldest, largest political party yielded to patronage politics.

Here we are about to witness another noticeable push for party reform – if Khurelsukh’s team fails, the MPP will simply follow the fate of the DP.  The DP has lost its core values and ideological orientation. Money-driven power politics has overtaken the party’s key institutions.  The party-chairmanship, governing board, and local branches have become the tool (or the leverage) for loosely-connected factions and groups to advance their interests and influence.  At the end, the change of the cabinet for the DP-led government simply indicates the change in the balance of power among factions – as all say in UB, ‘the next echelon’ is taking over state institutions.

If Khurelsukh’s team succeeds, we would expect something positive because the timing seems quite favourable.  First, the next election is a bit far away.  All (current and future want-to-be parliament members and political office holders) would take a little bit break.  And, they all wanted to look good and like rational actors publicly.  Second, the public and party supporters began cautiously applauding the reformist call of Khurelsukh and his colleagues after seeing the indifferent and indecisive politics of M Enkhbold (Speaker and Party Chairman) and J Erdenebat (Prime Minister) than their colleagues of the DP.  Third, economic conditions appear to be improving in spite of public debts. Commodity prices are gradually rising and the macro-economic policy is now tied to larger economic structure (i.e., IMF).  And, importantly, Russia and China are willing for more trade.

Khurelsukh’s Next Battles for Power

It is apparent that Khurelsukh is facing several difficult battles at multiple fronts – these battles would tell us whether he would truly bring positive changes to the party, government, and the country or not.  Like M Enkhsaikhan (DP in 1996) or Bayar (MPP in 2008), he was able to gain support to empower the Prime Ministership – especially choosing his team (cabinet members).  And, we would see if he could set up professionally-dedicated team of ministers in coming days.  For which, he needs to overcome pressures from his own faction, collaborating faction, and also contending faction within the party.

The no-show of 28 MPs to yesterday’s parliamentary session is evidence of the difficult battle ahead. In the end, Khurelsukh was elected by 47 MPs, a clear majority in the 76-member State Ikh Khural, but far short of the MPP’s 65 seats.  It also indicates that he needs to deal with his own party’s strong, loosely connected factions – some disgruntled over his actions of either taking down the Erdenebat’s cabinet or not offering any slots within his cabinet.  This faction would continue to challenge any of his policies or actions at the parliament and very likely at the party’s upcoming Congress (in November) to choose the party new chairman and other leadership. This would, certainly, force Khurelsukh to open up more cabinet seats to MPs in order to (1) build a strong coalition in the parliament and (2) prevent triggering anti-Khurelsukh campaign before and during the party congress.

At the moment, President Battulga and the DP’s parliamentary group have been the most supportive of Khurelsukh’s nomination and his will to establish a professional cabinet, but there are areas which would bring inevitable differences over mostly economic deals (i.e., railroads, mining deals, and banking).  The other evident battle, which will occur in coming days, is the power-arrangement over the security and law-enforcement agencies (esp. , police, intelligence, anti-corruption, marshall, plus procurator’s offices) with President Battulga (of course, with the DP prominent ones).

New Cabinet

Although Khurelsukh was adamantly proposing the professional (in reality – united and controllable) cabinet without davhar deels [i.e., parliament member simultaneously holding the cabinet post] and vice ministers, he began to tone down his priorities.  Having a few MPs with cabinet post would enable the Prime Minister (without the parliament membership and also party chairmanship) to maintain influence within the parliament and bargain with ‘friendly factions’ within the MPP.  Similarly, in spite of being criticized harshly, vice minister’s posts are also useful for his cabinet and party – (1) allocate tasks and responsibilities, especially ministries with large portfolios and (2) bring new party leaders (as on-the-job training) and entice the support of younger generations within the party.  Despite the unpopularity of the “double deel” and vice ministers in the public, MPP’s key political opponents – the President and DP’s parliamentary group – will not pressure Khurelsukh to get rid of them while some of his own party MPs vehemently fighting for the cabinet slots. The most pragmatic solution for Prime Minister Khurelsukh could be more davhar deel postings.

As a result, Khurelsukh’s cabinet will not bring any structural changes, but it will likely be composed of individuals with somewhat professional connection, experience, and most importantly answers to Khurelsukh rather than his/her factions.  However, the over-riding principles for the cabinet selections are to pick people with professional relevance to ministries’ portfolio and senior leader-type of work experience at the respective ministry.

Here are potential (rumoured) candidates for each ministry:

  • Prime Minister – Khurelsukh
  • Deputy Premier – MP (Ulaan or Enkhbayar)
  • Chief of Cabinet Secretariate – MP (Zandanshatar or Sumiybazar)

General Functional Ministries:

  • Environment and Tourism – MP (Sodbaatar or Tsogtbaatar)
  • Foreign Relations – MP (Zandanshatar or Tsogtbaatar)
  • Finance – MP (Khurelbaatar)
  • Justice and Internal Affairs – MP (Byambatsogt – incumbent)
  • Labor and Social Welfare – MP (Chinzorig)

Sectoral (Directional) Ministries:

  • Defence – non-MP (LTG (retired) Togoo) or MP (Bat-Erdene – incumbent)
  • Construction and Urban Development – MP (Baatarzorig)
  • Education, Culture, Science, and Sports – non-MP or MP (if MP, Enkhtuvshin)
  • Road and Transportation – non-MP or MP (if MP, Enkhamgalan)
  • Mining and Heavy Industry – MP (Sodbaatar)
  • Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry – non-MP or MP (if MP, Terbishdagva)
  • Energy – MP (Davaasuren)
  • Health – non-MP



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.
This entry was posted in Mongolian People's Party, Party Politics, Politics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A New Prime Minister: Same Politics or Reform?

  1. Bill Bikales says:

    Thanks, Julian. Very interesting discussion.

    Exactly which 28 MPP MPs skipped the confirmation vote? I am a bit puzzled by news stories that say it was the ones who signed the call for Erdenebat’s dismissal. Do you know exactly which factions boycotted?

  2. Bill Bikales says:

    Apologies for not noting that this analysis was prepared by Mendee, not Julian! The Cabinet lineup you mention is an impressive one. Let’s see how things turn out.

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