Pleased by the Khurelsukh Cabinet

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan 

The recent political developments in Ulaanbaatar have brought ‘hopes’ for some and ‘disappointments’ for others while being simply neglected by the majority as ‘typical’ political jokers and gaming.  Because of the lack of FORMAL institutional lockings, I always see greater uncertainty in any political reforms in Mongolia; therefore – the country often appears to be sitting at the crossroads.  The political system is vulnerable to moves of charismatic politicians, balance of power competitions between factions and interest groups, and temporary social pressures.  Since the institutional checks (rule of law, independent judiciary and apolitical bureaucracy) are weak, the political reform could be easily overridden by poorly thought ‘let’s change it’ syndrome. Thus makes any reform unsuccessful and easily mockerred by election/post hungry oppositions and politicians – along with help of some irresponsible media.  Before making overtly optimistmic stance on Khurelsukh’s reform, I would suggest Khurelsukh’s team needs to show the overall map of ‘how’ they would bring or improve the justice, to reduce the corruption, and to strengthen the public service; to point out difficulties, where they would require support from the like-minded judicial and law enforcement personnel, public servants, business community, and citizens; and to let party members and supporters know they would pursue politically indifferent approach to those corrupted MPP officials. This would add a little trust in Khurelsukh’s team’s dedication and start the New Year with a little bit of hopes – since we have seen how difficult to fight against deeply entrenched corrupt system, which relied on the INFORMAL institutional checks and lockings.

Why Am I Pleased

I do share some of Julian’s dissappointments – 99% double deel appointment, lack of female cabinet members, populist-type of political agenda, and avoidance of defining the party’s values and ideology.

But, I see the glass half full and am optimistic about Khurelsukh’s team’s reform efforts for the following three reasons.

Prioritization of Poltical Stability

The most typical challenge in Mongolia is the political stability, thus often characterized “uncertain” and “shaky” landscape.  This uncertainty nurtures the competitions among politically affilliated businesses and reduces trusts of people, businesses, and investors in the government, politicians, and public servants.  I would suspect Khurelsukh’s choice of his cabinet members was driven by the objective of maintaining the political stability at least within the party and parliament.  If he had chosen the “dan (single) deel” option and marginalized M. Enkhbold’s faction, he would simply lose most of his energy and patience in small battles within the party, standing committee and parliamentary sessions just to establish his cabinet members.  Khurelsukh’s team had demonstrated the difficulty of steering the reform at their will because series of institutional constraints and resourceful factions of M. Enkhbold and J. Erdenebat.  Therefore, the “davhar (double) deel” cabinet, for me, indicates the Khurelsukh’s team’s desire of prioritizing the political stability for themselves and their reform efforts.  Hopefully, we would see a stable cabinet until 2020.

The Party Tilted to Reform

Like DP, after seeing similar money and parochial interest driven politics of the MPP following the 2016 parliamentary and 2017 presidential elections, it was difficult to talk about political developments – rather than strengthening ‘crony democracy’ in Mongolia.  But, few MPP members’ calls to investigate the shady Erdenet deal and Mongol Bank’s corruptive schemes brought some hope.  Then, the government’s inability to implement the decisions regarding the Erdenet non-transparent, hasty privitization, as well as involvement of cabinet members’ business deals (including tax breaks) seemed irritated several young MPP members.  Later, some party members appear to be realized that their praisal of or silence about the ’60 billion tugrug’ (public service trading scheme) might have cost their political careers in coming elections.  Thus led many of them to voice against M. Enkhbold and Ts. Sandui (speaker of the city council) after the disasterous presidential election.  This would clearly indicate that rational party officials and younger ones want to change party leadership and the balance of power (of course, it would be misleading if we believe all wanted to reform and justice).  However, all young MPs, who called the resignation of Prime Minister J. Erdenebat’s cabinet, didn’t fight for cabinet seats.  If they became Khurelsukh’s cabinet members, today we would simply joke them as the ‘second echelon’ is going to the dining hall (i.e., cabinet).  This led me to see a hope of the party reform.

Emphasis on Professionalism

The emphasis on the professionalism of the public service is hihgly laudable.  Although the initial move of having more single deel posts than double deel ones failed, Khurelsukh’s cabinet pushed for at least some experience of serving at respective ministries.  He, indeed, brought professional ministers (with legislative capacity) at the ministries of justice, finance, and foreign affairs while yielding to have some fresh ones at two important ministries (environment/tourism and mining/heavy industry).  Since we have not seen these fresh ones run the ministries, it is hard to comment and predict.  At the same time, Khurelsukh’s cabinet also included MPs with previous executive office experiences – especially those coming from M. Enkhbold’s faction.  Having ministers with equal footings in the parliament and cabinet would certainly strengthen Khurelsukh’s government vis-a-vis to the parliament (State Great Khural).  Now, if all ministers would remain truthful for the professional public service and refrain posting any of their clients (patrons) to senior posts at the ministries and agencies, it might raise the professional confidence of public servants and a bit trust among public in the government.  However, the most important part for the public service reform is to establish a long-term institutional protection for public servants and seal all possible holes for politically affilliated entreprenuers to penetrate into the ministries, agencies, and provincial governments for their personal/factional benefits.  Thus needs to be done with the president, parliament, and judiciary.

Above all, I am a bit optimistic about Khurelsukh’s team’s reform effort because they seem to be prioritizing the political stability, tilting towards party reform, and emphasising the importance of professional public service.  But, if his team wanted to make a lasting reform, they must dismantle all INFORMAL institutional checks (patronage networks and factions) and strengthen all FORMAL institutional checks (judiciary, law enforcement) to lock against reversal tide.  The most important aspect at the moment is to lay out the main strategy and challenges to all – letting them to neglect small, temporary shocks and be prepared to support a long term overhaul for the justice and trusted public service if his team needs to fight against the party, parliament, and presidency.

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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