Constitutional Amendments, Again?

By Julian Dierkes

It appears that constitutional amendments are in the air again and some claim that these are likely to be addressed in a special parliamentary session in August or early on in the Fall session.

These amendments would push in different directions, but also re-visit some of the issues taken on by the 2019 amendments.

Election System

It seems that there is momentum building toward some mix of majoritarian and proportional representation. Constituencies + countrywide or regional proportional representation perhaps? Regardless of what system would be pursued, any kind of proportional representation would require a constitutional amendment to overcome the hurdle raised by the constitutional court that each Mongolian’s vote directly elect a representative and the interpretation that proportional representation does not meet this standard set out in Article 21. Some such amendments were debated already in 2019, but ultimately not passed.

It strikes me as very interesting that some elements in the MPP seem to be in favour of proportional representation and willing to pursue a constitutional amendment for this purpose. Why interesting? Because the MPP has won a super-majority in the last two parliamentary elections relying entirely on majoritarian districts. U Khurelsukh was also elected president through direct election after being nominated by the MPP. So, for electoral purposes, majoritarian elections seem to serve the MPP well and conventional wisdom would predict that a winning party might not want to mess with electoral systems.

I am hoping to learn more about the motivations for moving toward proportional representation within the MPP when I will be visiting Mongolia in August. For now, I can only speculate that a super-majority where all MPs are bound to local constituencies may actually be hard to govern with as it could be relying on ad-hoc coalitions of MPs to support particular legislation, but there might be little motivation to do so when MPs are beholden to local issues. This may also be an area where the downside of a party system that is not structured by ideological differences but by patronage structures is an obstacle as bigger, national projects (i.e., legislation) may be hard to pursue on such a basis in parliament even when it seems necessary.

Opposition parties, the ever-shape-shifting Democratic Party and KhUN are likely to be in favour of proportional representation as it is likely to give them a greater share of seats in parliament.

Parliamentary Composition and Powers

Number of MPs

There have been repeated discussions about the size of the UIX. I have offered comparisons to German Länder and the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia as early as November 2015. By such comparisons, there does not seem to be an urgent need for a larger parliament, but I do recognize that these are sub-national parliaments rather than national legislatures.

The number that seems to be under discussion at the moment is 120 MPs. Perhaps the push toward a larger parliament comes from the notion of retaining the current 76 constituencies and adding seats elected by proportional representation? I am not sure that there is an ideal formula for balancing directly-elected vs proportionally-elected seats.

There is no obvious harm in having a larger parliament, but I am not entirely sure that there is an obvious benefit either. What about corruption? When MPs choose a political career as an earnings opportunity (rather than out of a motivation toward political change), this is not for the parliamentary salary, but instead for other “opportunities”. With more members, presumably, those opportunities would be reduced. I would be surprised if that was a motivation for increasing the number of seats, but it might be a side effect. On the other hand, some might see this as a move to give more people access to “feed at the trough” thus increasing corruption.

The Double-Deel, again!

The double deel has been a long-standing topic of discussion. Just try a search on this blog! The 2019 amendments reduced the number of MPs in cabinet to a maximum of four. That is what is governing the current government of L Oyun-Erdene.

The purpose of the prohibition of MPs serving in cabinet was a) greater power for the Prime Minister (in part to strengthen them vis-a-vis parliament, but also the presidency), and b) more competent ministers as they could be recruited on the basis of subject-matter expertise, rather than being MPs.

It seems fair to say that in the two years of the Oyun-Erdene government, we have not seen any noticeable change in the balance of power between the PM, the president and parliament. Maybe some are interpreting this as a failure of the prohibition of the double deel. I would point out, however, that a super-majority coupled with the president held by the same party is an odd situation in which to test a) the power of the PM, and b) the effectiveness of parliamentary oversight over the executive. While I have never quite understood the problem with MPs serving in cabinet (after all, the vast majority of ministers in Westminster systems are parliamentarians) and am thus not a proponent of the prohibition of the double deel, once the 2019 constitutional amendments committed to this change, in my mind, I would prefer for it to play itself out as a structural change, rather than being abandoned after only one parliamentary election. Constitutional change should be a rare thing, so why not let this one play itself out for some time to assess whether it has the desired impact, particularly under a different make-up of parliament.

But, I have heard some arguments that the non-MP ministers simply lack power to take any initiative as it is simple for MPs to oppose them when legislation is required or through the budget process. To me, this calls for a more assertive PM who relies on party discipline to strengthen the position of non-MP ministers, but that does not appear to be happening. Again, why not discuss how different structures are having an impact on policy-making rather than move to another constitutional reform, but perhaps these discussions are just not reaching me.

Governance

There also seems to be a renewed push for a realignment of local vs national power. For example, there may be a push for the appointment of aimag governors by the PM, rather than their election by aimag assemblies.

It remains unclear to me whether there are further changes planned for the status of Erdenet and Darkhan so allow them more administrative oversight as city-states rather than aimags that are dominated by the urban part of the province.

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 tweets @jdierkes
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