Women Run Mongolian Elections, But They Don’t Run In Them

By Julian Dierkes

When you go to vote in Mongolia, look around in the polling station. Like so many (government) offices, the polling stations are run by women. Yes, every once in a while, there will be a man as a member of the local election commission, but rarely more than one man. And, making the gender dynamics in running the election even more striking, that single man in the polling station is probably the head of the local election commission.

My observation here is based on the roughly 100 polling stations that I have visited as an international election observer in five of the past six national elections (all since 2008, but the 2016 parliamentary election).

The same observation is true for campaign offices. Whether these are in an urban setting or a remote “propaganda ger”, or whether they are of the typical age composition (MPRP = 60 years old and above, DP with many younger campaign workers, MPP with a mix), campaign offices are generally staffed by women.

And, one more way in which Mongolian elections are women’s elections: women appear to be much more likely than men to vote. Since polling stations display the ration of female to male voters, my guess from the 16 polling stations that I visited on June 26 would be that the average ratio was close to 58:42. I hope that the GEC will release this ratio on a nationwide level after presidential voting concludes, but there is no reason I see that this observation is wildly off from national patterns.

So, put simply, women run Mongolian elections for predominantly women voters.

Female Candidates

But wait, something is not quite right here.

In the current presidential campaign, there is no female candidate. In 2013, health minister N Udval was the MPRP’s candidate, but she has been the only-ever female presidential candidate in democratic Mongolia.

And parliament? The 2016 brought a significant increase in the number of female MPs to 13 of the total 76 members, or 17%. Hm… That number was reached with a candidate quota of 20% women in place. It was also reached after four years of parliamentary sessions from 2012-2016 where a cross-party women’s caucus advanced some of the most important legislative agendas, like domestic violence laws, very effectively.

Coming Elections

Of course, politics is not the only area where women seem to be running much of the business, but continue to be excluded from leadership positions. Yet, women are also involved in selecting people to leadership positions, so I certainly hope that Mongolian parties will nominate more women for leadership positions in the future. There are many very capable women who are the backbone of Mongolian democracy in organizing elections. It is a shame that they do not play a more visible role in parliament and in government.

If the current presidential election has to start over because no candidate achieves 50% in the 2nd round, I personally hope that one of the three parties would turn to their leading women to nominate one of them.

Oh, and maybe consider thanking the women of your local election commission for all the hard and diligent work they contribute to the organizing of the election!

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots @jdierkes@sciences.social.
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