Presidential Debate or FAQ?

By Mendee

The presidential campaign closed with a two-hour debate on June 24.  Under the agreement between the DP, MPP, and MPRP for the debate, candidates were basically provided opportunities to express their views on frequently rumoured allegations during the presidential campaign.  Although the format (e.g., opening and closing, sequencing, timing, and grouping of questions) was great, it wasn’t a presidential debate, where voters could critically judge three candidates based on their values/principles, election platforms and/or policy options.

If three debates were held as had been hoped by organizers, things might have been different.  Candidates were skillful in engaging the blame-game techniques: Enkhbold on the DP government, Battulga on the MPP government, and Ganbaatar against the MANAN/ANMAN (a coalition government of the DP and MPP).

Responding to Allegations

The debate achieved at least two objectives.

First, we have seen three candidates on one screen and compared their public speaking skills.  Second, voters learned their personal views on numerous allegations: shady city land privatization deals and public post trading (known as the 60 million case) from Enkhbold; incomplete university, Feng Shui, and the “moonies” from Ganbaatar; non-transparent privatizations of state-owned enterprises, railroad deals, ties with Singaporean businessmen from Battulga.  Even though it was nice to hear their own views on these allegations, the final say rests with the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, esp., the anti-corruption authorities.

Policy Challenges

Candidates didn’t engage in real policy issues pertinent to the presidential institution. This causes some worries. First, (maybe) advisors, associates, and staffs of the presidential candidates have little knowledge about the institution.  Second, (maybe) the public or those who sent questions were most interested in street rumours. Third, our candidates are either little prepared or less enthusiastic about the post.  In the end, one of these candidates will assume the presidency, associates will work for the president, and voters need to judge them again after four years.  We could expect that less enthusiastic presidents will do nothing whereas too ambitious/less knowledgeables president will cause more challenges.  The former would just sit there as a symbolic figure with second-round hopes and the latter would upset the power dynamics.

Instead of wasting time over unproven allegations and incomplete investigations of their past wrongdoings, voters would love to see their wisdoms on the following issue.

For one, the most important constitutional mandate for the president is “the embodiment of the unity of Mongolian people (art. 30.1).  Voters all know that political and business elites, factions, and public are deeply divided based on our values, principles, interests, and social status.  There are hidden problems with Kazakh ethnic minority. Voters can come up with many explanations for why, but candidates could tell us how they approach – the issue of national unity.  Nowadays, a simple election, single Korean businessman, religious sect (Moonies) or sinophobic rumours could easily divide the homogenous society.

Secondly, the president, as a head of state, has greater authority and responsibilities in regards with foreign policy, which requires delicate, professional management.  Yes, Ganbaatar and Battulga expressed their views on lopsided relations with China vis-a-vis Russia.  Ganbaatar highlighted economic engagements.  However, all candidates need to express their views on how Mongolia could adapt in changing geopolitical and economic arrangements at the global and regional settings.  Would we expect changes or innovations in our current conduct of foreign policies?  What are their stances on the SCO, EEU, APEC and dealings with EU?  How about the tripartite summit with two neighbours?  How about third neighbours?  And, most importantly, what would candidates do to limit the politicization and partisan instrumentalization of the foreign service?

Thirdly, the president is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and shared responsibilities with the parliament and cabinet over all other uniformed services:  intelligence, police, border troops, emergency service and marshall.  Yes, at a moment, Mongolia is at peace, but there is a constitutional mandate for the president to initiate and oversee policies to maintain the “small, capable, professional” armed service. Voters clearly see the increasingly politicization of uniformed services and questionable conduct of professionalism in a number law enforcement agencies.  Military veterans, who were part of the Soviet-style, professional service, expressed their discontents for having a wresler – Defence Minister, an emergency serviceman – Deputy Minister, and a logistical officer as the Chief of the General Staff and for politicizing the most respected professional service – the military.  Candidates didn’t say a word in this regard.

Fourthly, the most discussed issue was the judiciary. All seemingly agreed the existence of the partial judiciary and politicized conducts of the law enforcement agencies.  Ganbaatar and Battulga presented themselves and their associates as victims of the nonpartial and politicized judiciary and law enforcement authorities.  Yes, there are facts and experience.  Seemingly, we all know about it and even both candidates as well as voters may be in agreement on why this is the case.  However, none of candidates tell us how they would fix this imminent, most dangerous policy problem.   Would they just simply continue the past practices?  What do they think of past judicial reforms?  How about new criminal code?  Or, the marshall service (tahar)?  How would they execute the power of pardoning (including foreigners)?  What would they do to increase trust in judiciary and law enforcement agencies?  Could they make them merit-based, independent, and professional?

Besides these key authorities, they, if willing, could exercise more authorities (checks and balances) in dealing with the parliament and cabinet.  Just to list a few:

  • How they would use the veto power and the authority to initiate laws and changes?  Would they pressure the parliament to implement the legislation on law-passing procedures?  Are there new legislative actions (bills, amendment) in their mind?
  • What would be their initial guidance to the Prime Minister under the Constitutional article 33.2? In what areas?  Are they in support or disagreement with policies and measures of the current cabinet (Prime Minister)?  Could we expect any changes?
  • How would candidates understand the power of the National Security Council (NSC)?  How would they use the power of the Chairmanship of the NSC and organizations under the NSC?  What would be the top 5 issues to be discussed at the first series of the NSC meetings?

Finally, two important issues were not fully discussed.  First, how would each candidate deal with their respective political party once he takes the oath of leaving partisan politics behind? Would he deal with all parties equally?  Would he believe in complete disconnection from his own party bureaucracy, especially the financing?  Second, what were their thoughts on the constitutional change?  Come on, this could have been the most crucial issue for the presidential institution because this second revision would re-shape the power arrangement of the domestic politics completely.  Whether he is in favour or against the change?  If so, what would be his role and stance in this process.  These two issues very critical for the new president.  Soon, he would be entering the lame duck period asking favour from his party leaders and factions to support him for the second round.  Or, he would fighting for the institutional survival in the constitutional revision process.

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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