By Julian Dierkes
Of course, it is interesting to speculate about the likelihood of one candidate or another winning the election. On that front, a week into the campaign, an Enkhbold victory still seems more likely, though a second round of voting is much more difficult to speculate about.
But, what I am looking more for in this election are signs that speak to the level of frustration that Mongolian voters feel with the two large parties and how they express that frustration.
As I reflect back on last year’s parliamentary election, the biggest news was perhaps not the size of the MPP victory (which was expected, though not on that scale), but rather the increase in the level of participation and the rejection of many populists.
Even in a desire economic situation – often a breeding ground for populism – Mongolian voters rejected many of the offers of simple solutions for complex problems (the hallmark of political populism), and instead voiced their frustration about the previous DP government by given strong support to the MPP.
In this election, many voters see many reasons to be frustrated with the choice the three candidates offer them.
Will they voice this frustration by staying home or by protesting this lack of choice either through blank/spoiled ballots or by backing Battulga or Ganbaatar as a protest vote?
I have discussed the impact of voter turnout on the result elsewhere.
But, I am trying to use my time in Mongolia during the campaign to learn from Mongolians how frustrated they are with politics (beyond the indications that polls offer on this topic).
I am hoping that I will continue to get a sense of how likely political mobilization outside of the structure of two large parties is in the future.
Last year’s election showed me that Mongolians remain dedicated to electoral democracy. I have discounted the likelihood of an authoritarian turn for some time. Instead, I think it will be increasingly likely that Mongolians will vent their frustration about politics through a protest movement focused on a specific issue, most likely corruption. We have seen a number of eruptions of protests on this topic in the past, but I will not be surprised if a future eruption then turns into a new political movement that demands real answers on corruption, or if a generational change in the large parties (overdue especially for the DP, but also needed in the MPP, I think) can hitch their cart in a genuine fashion to an anti-corruption or transparency cart and thus ride popular protest to real political change.