December 2022 Protests

By Julian Dierkes

Once again, following protests in April 2022, primarily younger Mongolians took to Sukhbaatar Square in protest in early December.

I initially wrote about these protests for The Diplomat, pointing out the simmering corruption worries connected to state-owned Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi, but also the mounting frustration that younger Mongolians in particular seem to be feeling regarding the lack of delivery on promises made by successive government that also fueled protests in April 2022.

Two weeks after these protests started, they now seem to be petering out. But, they will likely remain significant as an expression of popular frustration on the one hand, but also in pushing for some more concrete action on corruption, at least in the short term.

Journalist Anand Tumurtogoo and I had a Twitter Spaces discussion on the Red Line Podcast on Dec 19 that places these protests in a larger context, but also consider some of the possible implications.


The actual trigger for these protests were announcements by the government that corruption on a grand scale was taking place with state-owned Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi (ETT). As I wrote in the piece for The Diplomat, that was an admission that had been long coming since the government had already placed ETT under some supervisory measures earlier in the Fall.

I had initially assumed that corruption allegations were focused on 2021-22 when coal exports resumed at a somewhat frantic pace after Chinese border closures had interrupted. As discussions and reactions by government representatives continued, however, more and more of the attention seemed to be focused on longstanding governance issues and allegations of corruption at ETT over the past decade. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the effort to deflect criticism has focused on former president Kh Battulga who is also involved in the bitter fight of leadership over what remains of the Democratic Party.


It is clear that the protests were dominated by young people.

It is also clear that the protests were not orchestrated or organized even though the initial reaction I had had from Mongolians was focused on pointing at political conspiracies and political actors as instigating these protests.

Comedian Tsogtbaatar seemed to emerge as a quasi spokesperson, but did not provide central leadership to the protests.

I was interested to see that that recurring Mongolian protest tactic, the hunger strike, did not make an appearance this time. Instead, the most visible symbol of the protests ended up being a small group of protesters who camped out on Sukhbaatar Square. Given temperatures of -30ºC and below, that was surely heroic enough to catch many people’s eyes.


The government response has been primarily a bureaucratic one, i.e. “we’ll form a committee”. That is an appropriate response when it comes to corruption allegations, of course. At the same time, it is not a response that tends to be popular with frustrated youth who are protesting.

It does seem likely that this scandal will give the government an opportunity to attempt to prosecute former pres. Battulga and a number of other officials that have been identified as part of the “coal mafia”.

There is some chance that this will lead to more serious governance reform, I suppose, though chances seem relatively low given past histories of alleged corruption and cycles of protest/outrage over those.

Some of the initial reactions to the protest focused on the possibility of an attempt by Pres Khurelsukh to manipulate some kind of power relations within the MPP. I would take note that much of that speculation subsided within days when it seemed relatively clear in their un-organizedness that these protests were not orchestrated somehow. I do feel vindicated in my frustration about the never-ending insinuations of political manipulation when sometimes, voters are also simply frustrated.

Sour Taste

I do want to take note of the sour taste left by some of the Facebook posts of the immigration agency.

As best as I could guess, this may have been directed at suspicions of some kind of foreign interference. Again, not a great look that whole narrative of “foreigners are inciting demonstrations”, especially when it turns out that these seem to be mainly driven by frustrated Mongolians. Just another instance of the endless conspiracy theories and pointing of fingers undermining democracy.

P.S. Dec 19

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 and tweets @jdierkes
This entry was posted in China, Corruption, Erdenes Mongol, JD Democratization, Mining, Mining Governance, Politics, Protest, Protest, Tavan Tolgoi, Younger Mongolians and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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