By Marissa J. Smith
A cabinet reshuffle has opened the new year of 2023, in the wake of a December marked by large demonstrations that climaxed with an attempted storming of the Government Building. A major focus of these demonstrations was the revelation that as much as $12 billion of revenue from coal exports to China, the cornerstone of the Mongolian economy under the Khurelsukh/Oyun-Erdene government, had evaporated. The demonstrators also called attention to much wider problems in Mongolia, where inflation is in the double-digits and living conditions are in decline.
In an interview published by AFP, the Minister of Justice, Nyambaatar, acknowledged that “the majority believe that the reason behind the economic downturn and crisis is the corruption,” but also doubled down on government measures as a solution: “We have to improve and increase the measures that we’re taking to combat corruption, which is the issue that raises frustration among the people of Mongolia.”
The recent cabinet reshuffle indicates that these will be familiar government measures, executed by familiar government members, and that there are significant risks that demonstrator’s concerns are not being fully addressed.
More Young Deputy Ministers… But More MPP
All four new Ministers are double-deel wearers, i.e. current Members of Parliament. Except for Kh. Bulgantuya, they have been ministers in the past, and two have long been near the center of the Mongolian politics. The new Deputy Prime Minister, Ch. Khurelbaatar is already Minister of Finance and I have not seen any news that he will resign from that position. Ts. Davaasuren was previously Minister of Power in Khurelsukh’s cabinets (2017-2021) and worked in the Ministries of Finance, Economy, and Education throughout the 2000s (i.e. the tenure of N. Enkhbayar — according to Alan Sanders, he was initially expelled from the MPP when the MPRP and MPP split in 2012). Both Khurelbaatar and Davaasuren are noted by Alan Sanders as participants in the MPP’s rehabilitation of Tsedenbal in 2015.
In addition to the Cabinet reshuffle, a number of new Deputy Cabinet Ministers were appointed, and this was showcased in an official government news release. In contrast to the new Ministers (except for Kh. Bulgantuya, b. 1981), these are young people (zaluu) (except for Tsendsuren, b. 1965).
That the positions to young people are more minor ones, and the general sense of enlarging the MPP controlled government (Bulgantuya’s post, dealing with the timely issue of border ports, is new; similar to the post on traffic congestion created in August), calls to mind ongoing efforts on the part of the MPP-controlled government to increase membership of Parliament. There is widespread concern that this will lead to further control of the MPP over the Mongolian state and society.
While it can be said that many younger MPP government members have come up through the party system from a range of backgrounds, jokes about the resemblance of youthful and elder government figures are visible on social media.
Additionally, suspicion has been aroused about the arrest of the young head of freight transport of Ulaanbaatar Railway, with commentators suggesting he is a fall guy for the wife of a former Minister of Road and Transport Development.
Response to Coal Theft Scandal and December 2022 Demonstrations Appears Uncoordinated
The government news release announcing the new cabinet members includes not just CVs, but ambitious expectations: “Increasing coal export by 45-50 percent” … “Doubling the size of the economy in a short period of time” … “Establishing new cities in the Orkhon Valley [central Mongolia, near the former imperial capital site of Kharakhorum/Kharkhorin] and Khushig Valley [site of the former international airport near Ulaanbaatar]” … “Promptly implementing proposed reforms in the health sector.” Meanwhile, the establishment of a new department and the reorganization of investigation departments under the Ministry of Justice were announced.
Again, as noted by the Minister of Justice, “the majority believe that the reason behind the economic downturn and crisis is the corruption.”
The demonstrations started just days before the MPP Party Congress, and for my own part I find credible reports that some threads of the demonstration, especially in its initial phase, were linked to competition among factions within the MPP. Should we read this Cabinet reshuffle as a move to address factionalism via the distribution of offices?
If so, this appears to run against the grain of public sentiment about corruption, which connects it to the dire state of the economy. Davaasuren’s image in particular has loomed large in my Twitter feed in the last few days.
Speculation about the validity of government members’ claims about educational history have also recently been a theme. In recent months, I have heard complaints from Mongolian elites about the validity of the Minister of Digital Development and Communications’ PhD in history, and even PM Oyun-Erdene’s application to Harvard. While concerns about the legitimacy of academic credentials has been a staple of corruption discourses in Eastern Europe for many years, this is a recent development in the Mongolian context, or operating in the last year or two at a new, louder, level of discourse. At the least, the ubiquity of these narratives underscores general anxiety about the ability of Mongolia’s current government to effectively run the country. Mongolians have also made comment to me about Oyun-Erdene and Khurelsukh’s poor level of fluency in English — and throughout the latter half of the Twentieth Century until now, high proficiency in arts of operating as a cosmopolitian member of the global elite has been a must for Mongolian elites.
New members in bold:
Prime Minister – L. Oyun-Erdene
Cabinet Secretary – D. Amarbayasgalan
Deputy PM – Ch. Khurelbaatar (simultaneously Minster of Economy and Development)
Finance – B. Javkhlan
Defense – G. Saikhanbayar
Justice and Internal Affairs – Kh. Nyambaatar
General Investigation Department established, no head?
Education – L. Enkh-Amgalan
Roads and Transport – S. Byambatsogt
Environment and Tourism – B. Bat-Erdene
Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism – M. Ganbaatar
Foreign Relations – B. Battsetseg
Mining and Heavy Industry – J. Ganbaatar
Deputy Minister of Mining and Heavy Industry – O. Tsendsuren
Labor and Social Protection – T Ayursaikhan
Construction and Urban Development – Ts. Davaasuren
Health – S. Chinzorig
Deputy Minister of Health – S. Enkhbold (previous Minister of Health)
Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry – Kh. Bolorchuluun
Energy – B. Choijilsuren
Culture – Ch. Nomin
Digital Development and Communications – N. Uchral
Deputy Minister of Digital Develoment and Communications – J. Erkhembaatar
Traffic Congestion – J. Sukhbaatar
Olympism, Physical Culture, and Sports – B. Bat-Erdene
Economy and Development – Ch. Khurelbaatar
Deputy Minister of Economy and Development – G. Tuvdendorj
Chairwoman, National Committee of Border Station Revitalization – H. Bulgantuya
Deputy Prime Minister (Монгол Улсын Шадар сайд) CH. KHURELBAATAR (Чимэдийн Хүрэлбаатар) [Previous – S. Amarsaikhann]
b. 1968, Ulaangom, Uvs Province
Leningrad Higher School of Economics, graduated 1991
University of Sydney, graduated 1998
Lecturer, economics and econometrics, 1998-2000
Advisor, Economic Affairs, to Prime Minister (N. Enkhbayar), 2000-2003
Chairman of Millenium Challenge Foundation, 2003-2007
State Secretary, Ministry of Finance and Economy, 2003-2007
Minister of Fuel and Power, 2007-2008
Head, Standing Committee On Budget, 2008-2009, 2016-2017 2021-2022 Member, MPRP Little Khural, 2005-2009, 2013-2015
Cabinet Secretary, 2009-2012 Minister of Finance, 2017-2019, 2020-2021, 2022-present
Member of Parliament (Uvs), 2008-Present
Minister of Construction and Urban Development (Засгийн газрын гишүүн, Барилга, хот байгуулалтын сайд): SH. DAVAASUREN (Цэрэнпилийн Даваасүрэн) [Previous – B. Munkhbaatar]
b. 1964, Khuvsgul Province
Kharkhiv Polytechnic University, 1989
Power system automatization engineer, 1989-1992
Foreign exchange professional, Ministry of Finance, 1995-1999
Saitama University, 1998
Head of Information, Monitoring, and Evaluation Office, Ministry of Finance, 1999-2000
Head of Foreign Relations Section, Economic Planning Office, Ministry of Finance, 1999
Head of Central Finance Office, Ministry of Finance and Economy, 2000-2005
Head of Finance and Economy Office, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 2005-2008
Economic Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister, 2005
Member of Parliament, 2008-Current (Khuvsgul)
Head of Standing Committee on Budget, 2009-2014
Minister of Power, 2017-2021
Minister of Health (Эрүүл мэндийн сайд) S. CHINZORIG (Содномын Чинзориг) [Previous – S. Enkhbold, now Deputy Minister of Health]
b. 1964, Ovorkhangai Province
Mongolian National University, 1986
Planning Commission, Executive Administration, Ovorkhangai Aimag People’s Deputies’ Assembly, 1986-1988
Head, Executive Administration, Ovorkhangai Aimag People’s Deputies’ Assembly, 1990-1992
Deputy Governor, Ovorkhangai Aimag, 1992-1996
Head, Ovorkhangai Aimag Citizen’s Representatives’ Council, 1996-2000
Deputy Minister, Ministry of Development and Social Welfare, 2000-2008
Deputy Head, General Planning Manager, President’s Stamp Office (N. Enkhbayar), 2008-2010
Advisor to the Prime Minister (S. Batbold), Social Policy, 2010-2012
Head, Office of Development of Social Policy, Mongolian People’s Party, 2013
Minister of Development, 2014-2015
Head of Development Goals Subcommitee, 2016-2018
Minister of Development and Social Protection, 2017-2020
Member of Parliament (Ovorkhangai), 2014-present
Chairwoman, National Committee of Border Station Revitalization (Монгол Улсын сайд, Боомтын сэргэлтийн Үндэсний хорооны дарга Хүрэлбаатарын Булгантуяа) KH. BULGANTUYA (Хүрэлбаатарын Булгантуяа)
b. 1981, Arkhangai Province
Investment Consultant, “Creative Solutions” LLC, 2006-2008
Project and Program Consultant, World Bank, 2008-2010
Project Manager, Engineering Department, Oyu Tolgoi, 2010-2011
Principal Commercial Advisor, Business Strategy Department, Oyu Tolgoi LLC, 2011-2012
Head of Business Development, Petrovis LLC, 2012-2013
Member, MPP Leadership Council, 2013-2016
Secretary, International Relations, Party Organization and Cooperation, 2013-2016
Deputy Minister, Ministry of Finance, 2016-2020
Member of Parliament (Bayanzurkh District of Ulaanbaatar), Deputy Leader of MPP Group, 2020-present
Sources of information for this post include:
Sanders, Alan J. K., Historical Dictionary of Mongolia, Fourth Edition, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017.
Previous Oyun-Erdene Cabinet Posts on Mongolia Focus:
Oyun-Erdene Cabinet, Post-Constitutional Change