It seems the election battle already began in the Mongolian social media. Tweets and posts about educational levels of three candidates were the first theme, but didn’t travel well. Then, the classic technique of alleging candidate’s ethnic links, especially to Chinese-origin, has triggerred heated responses and most likely continue for this election. A few days ago, the MPP-dominated parliament endorsed Prime Minister’s decision to remove the Minister for Education, Culture, and Science for several mistakes. Was it a tactic of either the MPP or Prime Minister Erdenebat to demonstrate their ability and desire to hold their members accountable? Then, the Democratic Party organized an open hearing about the leaked MPP conversation on appraising senior and mid-level posts – which is, indeed, an important topic to scrutinize in order to move away from the patronage politics.
For sure, the game already started, players are ready, referees (GEC and judiciary) are not changed since last elections, and observers (e.g., OSCE and CSOs) are in place. Probably, this election will not shake the overall political landscape, but it will shape the power dynamics within two major political parties and decide the fate of the third party.
The Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) is in most advanteous position at a moment. It constitutes a supreme majority in the parliament, runs the government (i.e., a single-party government), and controls all provincial governors and citizens’ councils, except Zavkhan province. Also, the MPP regained its control over the capital city and its districts. Basically, the MPP is in charge of the legislature and government (central and local). The parliament has conducted a number of major fact-finding investigations, including the Chinggis Bond spending, Erdenet copper factory, and the Bank of Mongolia. All served to disclose facts related inefficient and unaccountable cabinets of the Democratic Party dominated legislature and government. The MPP is well-organized, disciplined, and united behind its presidential candidate. But, Enkhbold’s departure will definitely trigger the power struggle among two major factions: Prime Minister Erdenebat, who has backing of Enkhbold versus Deputy Premier Khurelsukh, who gains the popularity among young members. The current setting is quite similar to 2001, when the MPP had control the legislature, cabinet, and local governance. If Enkhbold loses, he will be still in charge of the MPP politics, but needs to manage the imminent power struggle.
The Democratic Party (DP) is in difficult situation. Its popular leaders and influential members are divided, some (e.g., Bat-Uul, Amarjargal, Temuujin, Baabar) openly expressed their discontent to current party leadership, procedures for selecting the candidate, and even the candidate himself. The party has limited access to the state resources, lost its ideological orientations, and most importantly, lacks unity among key factions. At the same time, although the party’s one of the key leaders holds the presidency, he needs remain politically neutral under the constitutional mandate. This means, Shonkhor faction (Erdene, party chairman, and Z. Enkhbold, former speaker) and Mongolian Democratic Union (i.e., faction) need to shoulder all responsibility to support its candidate. It would be quite costly elections for the DP candidate. At the moment, many members of the DP would like to see how things will go with this election. Aftermath of the election, the power dynamics of the DP will be shaped to compete in the 2020 parliamentary elections. This will be time for many members and supporters to make tough, uncertain choices.
The Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) is the only surviving third party. Its power base is in decline since it lost many of its key members and local branches. Enkhbayar’s re-entry into the politics have been clearly constrained (mostly by legal mechanisms). Because of disagreements over the party’s presidential candidate, relationship among MP Baasankhuu, Chairman Enkhbayar, and candidate Ganbaatar appears to be quite conflictual. Given the past records of third party candidates in the presidential elections, the likelihood of gaining above 14 percent is unlikely. But, no one will surprise if Ganbaatar will score higher, but that would be dangerous to the DP candidate and causes the second run between two main parties. Neverthlesss, the MPRP’s leverage over the domestic politics will decline until the 2020 parliamentary elections.
Finally, the Constitutional Referendum would be the most interesting aspect of this election since none, except the MPP-dominated parliament, would tell how this would be done. Would it be used to increase the voter turnout? Even though voters don’t like all three candidates, for instance, many could be interested in participating in the first-ever constitutional referendum voting. Or, would it be used as a safey valve (or a hidden card) for the MPP parliament to reduce the power and authority of the new president if the MPP loses in the election? This makes the politics very interesting and fresh. Let’s wait and see.