By Julian Dierkes
Let’s imagine scenarios that could lead to real political change, not only a change in leadership and possibly the party landscape, but a re-orientation of Mongolian democracy, a change of political culture, that gives Mongolians more of a chance to have a say about their country’s future.
You can tell by the tone of that opening sentence that I am wandering from risk analysis into visions of a better future here. But let me dream for a moment… I am dreaming of a Mongolian democracy that provides Mongolians more of an opportunity to engage in substantive decisions about their future by changing the political culture toward one where it is substantive differences that win votes, not personality or patronage or populist promises. Here I sketch out how this might happen via newly-formed political movements.
United in Reform Goals, Competing Over Policy
Ideally, a new political movement would commit to shared goals, but also agree to develop policy differences in order to foster a new political culture built around substantive divisions. This would be important to prevent what has happened to the Democratic Party, namely formation around opposition to a system without a dedication to substantive goals. This origin of the DP has been at the centre of the failure of Mongolian democracy to provide voters with substantive choices, so I would hope for any new movement to avoid this trap.
A new political movement might thus be committed to:
- political pluralism and a multi-party democracy
- the constitution, obviously
- recognition for the need for a truly independent state apparatus under parliamentary control
- a disavowal of patronage politics
- radical opposition to all forms of political corruption, starting with absolute financial transparency of parties, leaders, and office holders
- a vision of a new political culture focused on substantive/principled/policy differences, combatting conspiracies and political innuendo as the dominant form of political discourse
- acknowledgment that electoral victory is not the only, certainly not an immediate goal
If such a movement were to emerge, it might also commit to for working groups drafting political and policy goals with the express goal for the movement to split into at least two political directions before contesting any elections.
From my perspective, any renewal of Mongolian democracy is dependent on a massive injection of patterned substantive disagreements into political debates. If political choices do not differ in the policies that they are advocating, they do not really represent a choice from my perspective.
Tempted to derive similar graphic to map #Mongolia politics. But left-right spectrum not defined by traditional European/N American cleavages. Currently no systematic substantive divisions; what could define political spectrum?
Policy twd countryside, mining, inequality?#MGLpoli https://t.co/qgmGaX5QFj
— Julian Dierkes (@jdierkes) 14. Mai 2019
Here, I do not think that a “traditional” left-right spectrum maps well onto the Mongolian landscape. That spectrum ultimately is rooted in a Marxist dialectic and working class struggle for representation. These roots seem to be fraying in many European countries. For North America, the dialectic is one that is centred on state intervention vs a free market. But those do not necessarily seem to be meaningful categories to build Mongolian political movements around.
Yes, there have been some efforts within the DP to build some kind of market-liberal platform just like there have been programmatic initiatives to pursue social democracy within the MPP, but they have not really taken root.
Any new political movements who are aiming to change the political culture and to reinvigorate democracy would thus have to commit to a process by which they might discover salient cleavages for the Mongolian context. Could this be some kind of statism vs economic liberalism? Or, the pursuit of gradual, slower growth, vs rapid economic development? Or, the preservation of nomadism and support for life in the countryside vs an embrace of dominance by Ulaanbaatar? Or, some kind of environmentalism vs economic growth?
All these strike me as possible divisions among Mongolians, but new political movements would have to explore these to build platforms around them to compete against established parties, and against other new movements.
Commitment to Change of Political Culture
Any new political movements would have to accept and embrace the fact that electoral success will be gradual and will require sacrifice and dedication. It would be preposterous to imagine that a new political movement might win the 2020 election or field a viable candidate for the 2021 presidential election.
Instead, these upcoming elections would be occasions for new movements to test their policy-offerings out with voters, but also to educate voters about the benefits of radical transparency and a principled or at least thematic stance on policy questions.
Campaigns should be centred on informing voters about policy choices and making the case for concrete differences between political parties and the reasons for those differences.
In this effort to inform voters, I see great opportunities for a different campaign style, incorporating much more social media interactions, but also in-person interactions, than the typical famous-politician-lectures-attentive-audience style. But such a difference in campaign style is not a necessary component for new political movements.
Campaigning and political communications cannot be focused on a never-ending stream of unsubstantiated allegations against other parties and politicians. If there are cases of corruption or fraud, these need to be brought to light with concrete evidence that can be used for formal prosecutions. Those prosecutions should be watched very carefully and commented on when decisions are unexplained or prosecutions dropped, but respect for the independence of the judiciary requires trust in institutions.
Given rising voter frustration and on-going commitment to democracy, it seems to me that the party landscape is urgently due for a renewal that nudges Mongolian political culture in a direction to enable more substantive debates. I have imagined a political movement that starts with common goals but then splits into two or multiple parties to pursue specific policy goals on the basis of the common commitment to a new political culture and political process.