By Mendee Jargalsaikhan and Julian Dierkes
The local elections usually do not get much attention from international journalists, Mongolia-watchers, and even in-country diplomats. However, local elections at the capital city/aimag and district/soum level have several important implications for the country’s politics: (1) elected representatives basically run the local government, (2) parties in power of the local councils (i.e., citizens’ representative khural) shape local politics ahead of presidential elections, and (3) local posts (elected & appointed) are a training ground for young and new party members.
Going back to old schedule
Back in 2011, when parliament was revising the law on election, most MPs bought the argument to organize the parliamentary and local (aimag/soum; capital city/districts) elections simultaneously in June based on three rationales. One is economic, this would save financial and human resources. Another reason was the low voter turn-out, both for the national and local elections. The other reason was to have local governments in place before August, when all needed to prepare for the winter; otherwise, people wasted so much time and energy on politics. As a result, the parliament decided to conduct both elections simultaneously, but to implement in three phases.
In 2012, only the election for the 45-member Citizens’ Representative Khural of the capital city was conducted along the parliamentary election. Then, in 2016, elections of Citizens’ Representative Khural of the capital city and 21 provinces were organized together with the parliamentary election in June while conducting elections for the capital city districts and soums in October. This type of concurrent elections has prevented unsuccessful parliamentary candidates from running in local elections. Nonetheless, starting from 2020, all decided to revive the old electoral schedule: the parliamentary elections in June and the local one in October.
2020 Local Elections
The local election was organized on October 15. Avoiding entanglement in the most complicated elections, the General Election Commission has kept its distance only by providing technical (e.g., the automated system) and professional expertise, including the guidelines running the election during the pandemics.
17,149 candidates from 9 parties, one coalition as well as independents ran for 8,169 seats at the Citizens’ Representatives Khural at the capital city/aimag and district/soum level. The Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) – the current ruling party, which controls the parliament and government, – won in the capital city and 13 of 21 provinces.
The nearly-collapsed Democratic Party (DP) established an anti-incumbent coalition with the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), a breakaway party from the MPP, and SHINE. The DP-MPRP-SHINE coalition won eight provinces and Sukhbaatar District (one of 9 city districts). Since most of these new members came from the DP, its leaders quickly distanced themselves from the other two small, populist parties.
The National Labour Party, known as HUN, which campaigned only in the capital city and Darkhan, another large city in the north, won 18 seats (3 in the capital city and 15 in various districts). Unlike the MPRP, which won 5 seats in five different aimags’ khurals, or SHINE, which won one each in two provinces (Darkhan-Uul and Dundgobi), HUN secured 3 seats in the 45-member capital city’s khural.
In the absence of independent observers (except participating parties’ observers), reluctance from the General Election Commission and other law-enforcement organizations to be involved in messy local politics, it is difficult to categorize the local elections as strictly ‘free and fair’ until all complaints and reports about violations that are backed up by evidence get an independent, professional review.
The two dominant parties had clear advantages in the election. It was difficult to separate the election campaign events from day-to-day activities of cabinet members, parliament members, and, most importantly, of local governments (governors/mayor). The MPP mostly campaigned on the new government’s action plan and some specific proposals for the capital city, for example, to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution as well as to improve the public works. The DP acted like a devastated, populist party by joining into a coalition with two other parties – MPRP, which is under the control of the former president N Enkhbayar, and SHINE, a party of former MP Batzandan. The most important support for the DP seems to have come from President Kh Battulga as he presented massive award ceremonies (esp., mothers’ awards) while touring around the countryside. In contrast, the HUN party focused on key themes for the urban centre such as reducing traffic congestions and explicitly played by the rule.
The MPP secured its majority (34 seats) at the Citizens’ Representatives Khural of the capital city as well as 8 of 9 city districts. This allows the MPP to control the capital city, which is considered the important powerbase economically and politically. Although the DP gained a majority in Sukhbaatar district, it lost two former power bases (Bayangol and Bayanzurkh districts). At the same time, DP’s seats at the Citizens’ Representatives Khural were reduced from 11 to 8. In retrospect, the DP gained control of the capital city for the first time in 2012 (with 26 seats) but it became the minority from 2016 (with 11 seats).
In the next few days, new members of the Citizens’ Representative Council of capital city/aimag and district/soum level will conduct their first sessions to get organized and nominate the mayor for the capital city and governors for 21 aimags. Here, the Prime Minister plays an influential role of endorsing new mayor and governors. In the past, some prime ministers were reluctant to endorse candidates from the opposition party, which complicates local politics and delays day-to-day activities of the provinces and capital city. Now, the DP will be able to nominate 8 governors in provinces, where the DP hold the majority in the khural.
The two major parties – MPP and DP – will begin to strategize for the presidential election in 2021. Under the new constitution, the next president will be elected for a single, six-year term. This raises two interesting questions:
The first is whether the incumbent president will be allowed to run for the presidency. If one looks at most of former socialist cases (esp., in Russia) and even Mongolia’s own precedent case (P Ochirbat in 1993 election), the Constitutional Court could rule in favour of the incumbent.
The other is who will be the presidential candidate from the HUN party since only political parties with the seat(s) in the parliament are allowed to nominate their candidates. HUN has one seat in parliament, but all its known candidates are under 55, which is the threshold age for the presidential candidacy. This was the case for the opposition parties in 1990s. The opposition parties nominated former president P Ochirbat for two presidential elections (1993, 1997) until 2001, when their members passed the constitutional minimum age of 45 years.