By Julian Dierkes
In mid-May it is looking like the constitution will be amended.
D Amarbayasgalan has been very involved in process of proposing amendments as General Secretary of the MPP (more information about Amarbayasgalan)
Үндсэн Хуулийн өөрчлөлтийн төслийг өргөн барилаа.
Засгийн газрын хуралдаанаар Монгол Улсын Үндсэн хуульд оруулах өөрчлөлтийн төслийг хэлэлцэж, Үндсэн хуулийн 21 дүгээр зүйлийн 1 дэх хэсгийг “Улсын Их Хурал нэг танхимтай байна. Улсын Их Хурлын гишүүдийн далан зургааг мажоритар,… pic.twitter.com/lpF0b5Exos
— Д. Амарбаясгалан (@AmaraaDshzvg) May 3, 2023
MPs were urged to discuss proposed amendments in their constituencies during the week of May 8-12, further debates will continue in parliament, but a final vote may be taken before parliament breaks for Naadam.
To start with my bottom line: I do not feel terribly passionate about these amendments. I struggle to see the reason for the expansion of parliament, I appreciate the addition of seats that are to be elected through proportional representation, but I worry about embedding electoral issues in the constitution and about more frequent constitutional amendments.
What are these amendments?
While other amendments (most notably around the kind of issues the Constitutional Court might hear) have been discussed, in the end, the current proposal amounts to two amendments: expanding parliament from 76 to 152 seats, and specifying proportional representation as the electoral method for those additional 76 seats.
Expansion of Parliament
Like the “double-deel” this has long been a topic of conversation in Mongolia. Way back in 2015 I had already been puzzled by suggestions that the Mongolian parliament was somehow to small and offered some comparisons to state legislatures in Canada and Germany. Many of those comparisons continue to hold today. Take my home province of British Columbia. The population is larger than Mongolia’s (at 5m of whom 4.3m or so are of voting age, compared to Mongolia’s 2.2m or so of voting age), the Legislative Assembly (parliament) currently has 87 seats, set to increase to 93 given population growth. Mongolia’s 76 member parliament does not seem out of proportion, even taking into account that a national parliament, especially in a centralized unitary state like Mongolia has some sovereign tasks that a provincial assembly would not deal with.
Парламентын засаглалтай, нэг танхимтай, ижил хүн амтай улс орнуудтай харьцуулахад 2.8 сая хүн амтай Албани 140, 2.9 хүн амтай Армен 107, 3.9 сая хүн амтай Гүрж 150 гишүүнтэй.
— Аюушийн Ариунзаяа / Ariunzaya Ayush (@ariunzaya_a) May 9, 2023
So, is there an urgent need to expand parliament? International comparison does not suggest that and really, there has not been a rationale offered in the Mongolian context either that I find terribly convincing.
One obvious negative implications is financial, ie parliament with 152 members will be more expensive to elect and to run than with 76 members, no doubt.
One positive aspect that one might speculate about is that a further dilution of power (taking additional MPs to be diluting the power an individual might yield, esp. over several rounds of parliaments) may reduce opportunities for corruption. That is highly dependent on the power balance between parliament and cabinet, something that will presumably shift with a larger parliament.
[Later addition based on further discussions:] There may also be an operational aspect to the size of parliament. While my comparisons to other legislatures suggest that size relative to population is not unusual, there are arguments that the work of parliament is hampered by its size in Mongolia, for example as MPs attention is divided across 3 standing committees where much of the important drafting and revising of legislation happens. That challenge could also be addressed by more resources provided to MPs in the form of legislative assistants, etc., an area that would be good for parliament to address in any case, but I recognize that an expansion of the number of MPs may also address this issue somewhat.
As a German, I have grown up with proportional representation at the federal and state level, but also with an election system that is a mystery to many voters and that is currently changing to curtail the growth of the Bundestag. In Canada, I chafe at the lack of representation of minority views in a majoritarian system. Yet, I also recognize that all varieties of systems have advantages and disadvantages, there is not that one perfect system. So as much as my personal preference are systems based on/including proportional representation, for Mongolia, I would prioritize stability over experimentation and I have long worried about the pattern of new electoral systems for every election despite the admirable job that the General Electoral Commission does in voter education.
So, while I welcome the introduction of proportional representation and recognize that it has come to be thought that this requires a constitutional amendment, I do worry that the threshold for amending the constitutions is being lowered. Yes, proponents seem to be hoping that enshrining a proportional system in the constitution will lead to greater stability, but I fear that it just means that parties may be tempted more often to introduce constitutional amendments.
There are very significant implications of a mixed electoral system for political parties and their strategies. Enough to consider these in a separate post.
Depending on specifics to be determined by the electoral law, a nation-wide proportional list would shift power to Ulaanbaatar voters to some extent. While votes currently count more in less densely populated aimags (variable of course as the number of members from different aimags varies), the national list could be dominated by Ulaanbaatar voters.
There are a number of questions regarding the electoral system that will be settled by an election law, not through the proposed constitutional amendments. While proposals for such a law are floating around these may not be cast into legislation for some time. But questions include:
- proportional how? The current discussions seems focused on a largest remainder system (for an excellent discussion of different systems, see Andrew Elllis’ primer)
- gender quota? Most recent discussions seem to suggest a requirement for gender alternation on the proportional party lists. If enacted that would signal a significant boost to women’s representation in parliament.
- national list? Current majoritarian districts are multi-member, so perhaps some are imagining regional districts for the lists? A national list seems somewhat obvious, but that remains to be determined.