By Julian Dierkes
Clearly, the second half of November into December 2018 has been an exciting time for observers of Mongolian politics. When the SME Fund scandal started gathering protest online, I was about to by an airplane ticket to join the revolution. Instead, I waited two weeks and arrived just after the Khurelsukh government had survived a vote of no-confidence.
But, I arrived seeking answers to what recent events might mean for bigger political trends, and for my expectation that we’ll see some kind of revolution in Mongolian politics in the next, oh, ten years, either in spurts, or all at once. But instead of answers, everyone presents me with pictures of political alliances, conspiracies, and party politics that looks like a bowl of tsuivan, i.e. fried noodles, it is so confusing.
Peculiar. I have lots of questions abt #MGLpoli developments of past month, getting lots of answers from many ppl here in Ulaanbaatar, but answers are not stirring creative blogging juices… Too many answers that focus on personalities, conspiracies, power games…
— Julian Dierkes (@jdierkes) December 11, 2018
It is important to note that the current power struggles among Mongolian politicians and the possible reconfiguration of the party landscape is not about ideology or policy differences. That is too bad, as it would signal genuine debate that Mongolian voters might be interested in.
Instead, the account of the current turmoil that everyone has been giving me is about a struggle for power, and even more sadly, a piece of the business/corruption pie.
Why is it worth repeating these accounts of political alliances as they are based on conjecture? Because there are implications for the overall party landscape with possible splits of the two large parties, DP and MPP, and the arrival/rise of other political movements. But I would acknowledge that I am repeating common speculation, not analysis or fact below.
Parties: The Big Picture
Of course, the DP has been rife with factional fights in the past, nothing new there. The MPP has been able to maintain some more party discipline in the past, but has now broken into full-on internecine struggles. With all their faults (growth of corruption, lack of implementation of politics, no renewal of leadership), DP & MPP have collectively provided some institutional stability in Mongolian politics. Yes, governments change regularly, but more often than not, there is little change in policy that goes along with that change (other than personnel turnover which often leads to newly re-invented old policies).
The assumption for the moment will be that both parties somehow overcome the challenges to their unity (that they have largely created themselves).
However, there is some chance at splits in either of the big parties and below is what seems to be roughly the configuration that splits might take.
The fact that a party who has a supermajority and 1 1/2 years left to govern with that majority, now engages in seemingly suicidal internal struggles says a lot about Mongolian politics.
The fight pits former party leader and presidential candidate M Enkhbold and his “city” faction against the “countryside” faction of current PM U Khurelsukh who has come out of the MPP’s youth organization.
These two sides are so badly divided that the city faction forced a no confidence vote against the PM which they lost. In this fight, all kinds of rhetoric, but also more aggressive ploys involving various security agencies have been deployed. There is no ideological divide between these two factions. The Khurelsukh faction can vaguely claim a mantle of party reform, but really only quite vaguely.
Following the failed no-confidence vote, the Khurelsukh faction will likely continue to oust M Enkhbold from his position as speaker of parliament. Either side could announce a split from the party, though in the event of such a split, they would certainly fight over the significant party infrastructure that exists and that also became a subject of law suits and fighting when former president Enkhbayar split the MPRP off from the MPP in 2010.
There are some powerful party figures who seem to have remained in the background of the current fight, most notably perhaps former PM Su Batbold who has played a kingmaker-role in past cabinet reshuffles.
Note that there is a widespread assumption that the DP will win the parliamentary election in 2020 simply because Mongolian voters have swung back-and-forth between the two big parties over past elections, and despite the fact that the DP has not made any attempts to renew itself following its disastrous showing in the 2016 election.
The parliamentary caucus of the DP no longer is a caucus because MPs Bold, Murat, and Batzandan have been expelled.
That development along with other (factional) splits in the party suggests that a formal split may also be coming.
In such a split, MP Lu Bold seems like to seek to form a party of some kind. He has previously run in Khaan-Uul together with Ts Oyungerel who has been on a long campaign for sanitation in Mongolia that may also double as the beginning of a political campaign. Her brother Ts Bat may also be ready to make the jump into politics at that point.
The party establishment around S Erdene would likely continue on its not-so-merry path.
Formally, Pres Battulga is no longer a party member, of course, but in any realignment, the suggestion is that he would line up with former PM Altankhuyag.
The (very) dark horse in all of this DP speculation then is former Pres Elbegdorj. Would he ally with elements of a split MPP? M Enkhbold’s faction would seem the most likely in that case.
XUN is clearly getting some attention in the wake of recent scandals, but it’s unclear whether they can build on that attention and how any splits in MAHAH might benefit the formation of a new party.