How Much Power and Legitimacy Do New Women MPs Hold?

By Marissa J. Smith

As already noted in Bulgan’s post, the new Parliament has the highest proportion and number of MPs ever, with over a quarter of the new Parliament being comprised of women.

While this is certainly a result worth celebrating and it holds great potential, I write here to make some important caveats.

Unfortunately, a closer look at which women were (re)-elected and how suggests that their legitimacy and power is such that these almost all new women MPs are starting from a tough place.

Majority of Women MPs Were Not Directly Elected

In this year’s election, voters both selected individual candidates on one ballot, and selected a party on a second ballot. Seats were distributed to parties from an ordered list of candidates based on their results from the second ballot. The lists were mandated to have a “zipper” format, with female and male candidates alternated in the list.

Of the 32 female candidates elected, only 8 (1 in 4) were directly elected, i.e. voters specifically chose those individuals on their ballots. As Bulgan noted, 316 women candidates ran for direct election.

None of the parties winning seats started their “zipper” with a woman candidate.

Majority of Women Incumbents Lost Their Seats

As I noted in my initial reaction to the election results, only 3 of 9 female incumbents retained their seats. Only 2 were directly elected (Ch. Undra and Kh. Bulgantuya; S. Odontuya was elected from the party list). This speaks to difficulties women face in their ability to gain and maintain political legitimacy.

Take-aways and Caveats

The fact that so few women were directly elected and that such a large proportion of incumbents lost their seats points to the fact that individual women candidates struggle to successfully campaign in Mongolia. As pointed out in recent books by former MP and minister Ts. Oyungerel and anthropologist Mandukhai Buyandelger, in the contest to garner party and popular support for their campaigns, women lack resources and access to spaces of networking and negotiation. (I am working on a post to show this leveraging public financial statements candidates were required to submit to register for candidacy.) This is of course a reflection of broader trends in Mongolian society what roles women are expected to play and in what manner.

Of course, such a large number of women MPs, especially if working cross-party, might be able to shift some dynamics. However, it remains to be seen how much latitude women MPs will have to operate independently of parties or factions within parties. One of the first conversations I observed on social media when candidates were first announced focused on whether or not party list candidates, particularly from the MPP, would be able to act independently. Many participants in this conversation argued that they would not, and perhaps the most stringent version of this view called the MPP party list “make-up,” with young, new faces hiding an old guard running for direct election. See Julian’s prior post thinking about directly-elected vs. list-elected candidates here.

As Julian has noted, in 2012-2016 a cross-party women’s caucus was formed, and this is something we will be watching for. We are also eagerly watching to see which seats in the new Cabinet will go to women and will provide updates here on Mongolia Focus.

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