Stability of Presidential Election System

By Julian Dierkes

In June, Mongolians will participate in a presidential election again. The electoral system has remained largely unchanged since the first free election in 1993.

In late January 2021 a conference on “Democratic Challenges in Asia and Mongolia” was virtually held at the National University of Mongolia. The event was organized by Profs. Badamdash D and Bumdari D and (virtually) brought together international and Mongolian researchers focused on democratization in Mongolia.

Among the presentations, I was very interested in Gerelt-Od’s presentation on changes in electoral systems, an issue that I have been quite interested in.

E Gerelt-Od is a professor at the Mongolian State University of Education and is a prominent commentator on Mongolia’s politics with a particular focus on party politics. He has previously written for this blog as well. His presentation focused on changes in the electoral system by which parliament has been elected over the last 30 years.

This prompted me to wonder why the system to elect the president has undergone virtually no changes! If the particular development of the Mongolian party system, including the legislation pertaining to the operation and financing of political parties has led to a four-year cycle of changes to the electoral system – including some fairly radical swings between proportional representation and majoritarian elections – why is the presidential electoral system not changed?

Electoral Systems

As readers know, I’m a sociologist. So, what do I care or know about electoral systems? Well, as a five-time election observer, I have tried to learn as much as I can about Mongolia’s recent elections and it is very obvious that the parliamentary elections have been run under different electoral systems every time.

I would note, importantly, that these every-four-year changes seem not to have been terribly confusing to voters. My sense as an election observer has always been that voters who come to the polling station know what they are doing. There seems to be very little back-and-forth between voters and election officers as voters cast their ballot. I attribute this largely to the good education work of the General Election Commission. As problematic as its – partisan-seeming – appointment mechanism may seem, the resources dedicated to voter education seem to be well-spent and voters seem to be attentive to them.

Yet, it is hard to imagine that these regular shifts are confusing in terms of the interpretation of results. It is also damaging to trust in democracy in that every change has brought more and more discussions of the partisan nature of decisions about electoral systems, i.e. many observers and voters seem to interpret the changes in electoral systems to be largely self-serving by the party that controls parliament.

Why Not the Presidential Election System?

Perhaps it seem or perhaps it even is silly to ask why the presidential election system has not undergone regular changes. After all, the very nature of that presidential election is a direct one and Mongolia remains a unitary state so there is no strong argument for alternatives to a nation-wide direct election.

But is that really true? Why not an election that has some kind of regional mechanism built in? It would not have to be as archaic, hard-to-understand and potentially anti-democratic as a the U.S. electoral college, although formerly common forms of electoral colleges have largely disappeared. But note the French presidential election as an example of a twist on a direct election. Yes, the electoral college was abandoned for the Fifth Republic in 1962, but even today the nomination of a candidate requires the support of 500+ elected officials. That is a variant on the Mongolian requirement that a party has to be represented in parliament to nominate. Both requirements effectively function to reduce the number of candidates though more so in Mongolia today than in France.

But, one could imagine a system that somehow included a component to ensure regional representation, for example a quorum for the winning candidate by region. Given some of the arguments about the parliamentary election and the need to ensure regional representation (even though MPs seem quite focused on Ulaanbaatar in their political lives), how come similar arguments are not made in the context of the presidency?

Similarly, why no more experimentation around the stages of an election. One of the surprises of the 2017 election was that it had to go to a second round after no candidate had won a majority of votes. While the requirement for more than 50% had been part of previous elections, this situation had not arisen. To make the French comparison again, French presidential elections demand a second round that reduces a larger field to two candidates only as we will see in roughly a year’s time again in 2022. But no prescribed stages have been discussed in Mongolia.

If it is partisan interested that drive changes in the electoral system, were MPP leaders just not clever enough to foresee that an MPRP candidate (N Udval) might “steal” votes from B Bat-Erdene to allow Ts Elbegdorj to win? What about M Enkhbold in 2017, at the time very much a politician that was intent on victory and not shy about manipulating systems to get his way. Did he not foresee that S Ganbaatar might take a significant portion of a protest vote? If the MPP is so clever about parliamentary elections to engineer two landslide victories in a row (2016 and 2020), how come they have not been able to win a presidential election since N Enkhbayar’s victory in 2005?

Is the Direct Election of a President Fundamentally Different from Parliamentary Elections?

So, is it silly to ask about the stability of the presidential electoral system?

Perhaps, the role of a single head-of-state is simply clearer to electorates than that of a representative body. And thus, perhaps is the election of that head-of-state even with less executive power clearer and more obvious to observers and policy-makers.

Take the Kyrgyz example: a succession of crises and doubts about presidential power keep leading to a reinstatement of presidential power. Or, take the U.S. Presumably, the spurious claim to any kind of leadership that a person like Donald Trump was able to make was rooted in an understanding of political action focused on a single individual and the qualities of this individual. Even when an Electoral College sits between direct election by citizens and confirmation in a role , this direct election of an individual seems somewhat more obvious than the specifics of parliamentary elections.

So, perhaps it is not so surprising that the presidential election has not really come under any kind of review. Maybe there is a political scientist out there who is interested in comparative electoral systems who can explain the stability of that electoral system compared to Mongolian parliamentary elections.

Posted in Democracy, Elections, Party Politics, Populism, Presidential 2021, Research on Mongolia | Tagged | Leave a comment

Untold Podcast Episode 1: First Guest

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan

Untold Stories of Persons with Disabilities in Mongolia

This is the name of our podcast and reflective blogspot. According to the National Statistics Office of Mongolia, 107.1 thousand of us are considered as persons with disabilities. A whole shelf-full of fine reports, studies, and statistics was produced. The government documents throw around catchy phrases and make promises to people with disabilities and also, officials give speeches at workshops, conferences, and designate special days recognizing people with disabilities. But most of these do not capture the true stories, dreams, hopes, challenges, and struggles they experience in their everyday life. In our society, an understanding of disability is hindered by stigmatization and stereotypes, which then affect these people’s life in various ways. This creates an artificial barrier in society. Therefore, we need to let people know about their stories that have been left untold. We are honored to have Mr. Battulga Ganbaatar as our first guest and the following is an attempt to capture his stories.

Guest of the UNTOLD podcast Battulga Ganbaatar, MIFIP Project Coordinator Sainbuyan Munkhbat; Photo: Batbold Yondonrenchin, FES Mongolia

Shock, Devastation, and Awakening 

A car accident turned a young man’s life upside down. Shock, depression, and even an attempted suicide. He felt ashamed and was afraid to step out because he might run into his friends and acquaintances. One day, his parents learned about Mr. A. Khash – a host at the MGLRadio – who was launching a campaign to find and talk to people who were abandoned, depressed, and had lost hope. Mr. Khash visited the young man, Battulga, once or twice a week, and he brought other people along to share their stories and even celebrated the New Year together. After almost three years, Battulga realized that he must socialize. During these long and hard years, he learned the value of life, family, perseverance, and other things that would inspire him. However, he realized that if his parents had not known about Mr. Khash, or if Mr. Khash had not started his goodwill campaign, there would not have been any other specialist or organizations to help him go through this tough stage in his life. While thinking about the past, Battulga sighed heavily and said that he did not know if there was psychological counselling available at the hospitals.

Schools, Job Hunt, and NGO

Because of the devastating accident, he didn’t continue university from the third year. Now the first task he set for himself was to get a professional degree. In 2012, Battulga graduated in accounting from the Zasagt Khan Institute. Upon graduation, he tried to find a job. Battulga applied to several places, but the work environment was not right for him. He identified three aspects of the work environment that prevented people with disabilities from successfully adjusting to their work. The first one being infrastructure. The company that offered him a job was located on the third floor, yet the building did not have a lift, and was not wheelchair accessible, and furthermore, there was no toilet for people with special needs. The other problem is cultural. The people – managers and co-workers – should have an inclusive attitude and knowledge about people with disabilities, Battulga explains. It is easy to create several jobs for people with disabilities, and for wealthy companies, to construct a barrier-free infrastructure. The most important aspect is sustainability – an organizational culture that promotes a friendly working atmosphere for people with disabilities. So, he joined the Mongolian National Association of Wheelchair Users, where he met his spouse, and later, worked as a project manager in the Tugeemel Hugjil, a non-governmental organization that promotes the independent living for people with disabilities.

Public Transportation for the Public Movement 

In 2014, not a single bus was equipped to serve wheelchair users in the capital city. Battulga joined his colleagues to create a social movement – “Public Transportation for the Public” – to facilitate the use of public transportation for people with disabilities. Members of this campaign, including the Tugeemel Hugjil (NGO), protested and clashed with the police until the city authorities listened to their demands. The city authorities agreed and quickly purchased 20 buses, which were equipped to transport passengers with wheelchairs. However, they only run along the city centre and drivers are very reluctant to take wheelchair passengers, according to Battulga. In order to load or unload the wheelchair, the bus needs to drive into the bus stop pocket and dock at the sidewalk. It would take extra effort for the bus driver to force away those cars stopping or even parked illegally at the bus stop, and then get back to the lane mostly jammed in Ulaanbaatar’s (UB) traffic. Simultaneously, the drivers are under time pressure to get paid. Battulga’s last experience of using this fully equipped bus was terrible – especially, the driver’s attitude. He was shouting at him and asked if he could stand up and pull himself into the bus quickly. That was the only time he used the bus.

Eye Opening Trips in Japan and United States 

Before travelling abroad, Battulga accepted things as they were given and thought the life of a disabled person should be like this. But things are different in Japan and the United States. He was lucky to visit Japan through a trip funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. He shared his two observations that touched him the most in Japan. First, him seeing a student with Down syndrome studying in the regular classroom. He was aided by a nurse and a special educator – who took notes for him and helped him to participate in classroom activities. Studying alongside each other, these young children experience the needs of their classmate with special needs. This will shape their attitude differently. The other was a business incubation centre for people with disabilities at the local district. This centre provided consulting and workspace for only those who wanted to be entrepreneurs for 45 days. In contrast to Japan, his experience in the United States was different. He interned at the Center for Independent Living in Washington, DC for 45 days as a participant in the Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD) program. On the first day, he was lost at one of the metro stations and realized that no one was coming to offer him assistance unless he asked for it. In Mongolia, people perceive a disabled person as vulnerable – and most of the time, offer their help. In contrast, the strict enforcement of disability laws and acts in the United States requires all facilities and infrastructure to be accessible; thus, protecting the human dignity of people with disabilities and ensuring that they can participate in society

Policies, Laws, and Regulations

Our discussions immediately led to policies, laws, and regulations to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Laws are declaratory, weakly enforced, and the people who make these policies do not understand the needs of people with disabilities, Battulga sighed. Mongolia joined the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009 and passed the ‘Law on the Rights of Disabled People’ in 2016. Since then, many regulatory changes have not passed. For instance, the 2016 law declares that the state will provide the master’s degree education for free, but his friend could not claim this entitlement. Officials at the government and university simply responded that the relevant regulation had not been approved. At the moment, the government officials are drafting the amendments to the ‘Law on Education’ to promote equal education. The sad fact is that these officials do not realize the need of inclusive education and use financial and bureaucratic constraints as an excuse to drop such proposals. Battulga stresses the importance of starting the inclusive education, rather than continuing the separate educational environment for children with disabilities. One point, which needs to get into minds of current Members of Parliament, is Battulga’s suggestion to enact an anti-discriminatory law against all types of discrimination against race, ethnicity, gender, disability, language, and culture. This law must be enforced strictly to create an equal, inclusive society.

Impact of Covid-19 on People with Disabilities

He mentioned a poignant tweet about people with disabilities during the pandemic – nothing has changed the lifestyle of the disabled person, especially those who spend days at home because of the cold weather and unfriendly infrastructure. Then, Battulga wonder if the current pandemic quarantine rules leave room for people with disabilities, or if there is a specific regulation for them. Yes, it is a vital concern – some must use wheelchairs, some need to have a caregiver, and others require specific medical facilities. Also, we do not know how people who need to visit regularly for giving medical care and medicine would be affected by the extreme lockdown. These are important concerns that must be carefully thought out and accommodated by the authorities and professionals.

Solutions 

Our guest’s insightful, candid discussion seems to lead to one major solution for changing the society’s attitude towards people with disabilities. He passionately argues that if we introduce and strictly enforce the anti-discriminatory law and other related regulations in the next 10 and 20 years, it would construct appropriate social standards and rights attitudes toward people with disabilities. He cannot remember any class or social studies textbook that provides knowledge about different types of disabilities and their specific needs. In secondary school, he never interacted with children with disabilities. Battulga firmly believes that if we provide this type of knowledge and experience to children when they are in kindergarten and schools, they will understand the people with disabilities. One of them will be a doctor, construction engineer, lawyer, and Member of Parliament. They will know the needs of their classmates. If the bus driver or an official who is working on the amendment of the ‘Education Law’ had such knowledge and experience, Battulga would have been telling us how he enjoys riding the bus, or how schools are becoming more inclusive than they have been during the socialist period. Finally, he said that barrier-free infrastructure is not only for people with disabilities, but it also has a universal design and is multifunctional. The sidewalk or washroom could be used by elderly, ones with canes and clutches, parents with infants, and all others.

Sainbuyan and I struggled to give a name to this invincible fighter, who also shares our unrealistic dream of going to Mars and wants to create a tourism policy which would promote Mongolia as the most inclusive tourism destination for people with disabilities after his study in Australia. He did not give up his fight for the Australian Awards Scholarship until he won the scholarship. Later, we learned that he is a pretty good singer, who surprised many at the 2013 Universe Best Songs.

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We would like to thank Yongmin Lee, who agreed to be our first proof-reader.

Posted in Education, Health, Human Rights, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Social Issues | Tagged | Leave a comment

Presidential Election Outlook

By Julian Dierkes

Parties will nominate candidates my May 2 before Mongolians will vote on a new president on June 9, 2021.

Depending on the outcome of the election this will be the 5th or 6th president since the democratic revolution. I fully expect that the election will run as smoothly as previous elections have run, though that continuity also implies that there will be many complaints about election fraud.

At the broadest level, I do not see any candidates running or winning who would bring about significant departures from past policies. That is not to say that the prospective candidates are not very different in personalities and in the style in which they would govern, but within the limited range of decisions that the president makes, all the likely candidates will be relatively similar as they have been in the past.

Constitutional and Election Changes

Following the November 2019 amendments, this next president will be elected for a single term for six years and will thus serve until 2027. Note that the change in the duration of the term will mean that the next presidential election will come three years after/one year before a parliamentary election, thus breaking the patter of following a year after the parliamentary vote.

Candidates will have to be at least 50 years old.

Unlike the 2020 parliamentary election, Mongolians living abroad will be able to cast a ballot by submitting absentee ballots to Mongolian missions abroad.

Mongolian People’s Party

When U Khurelsukh abruptly resigned as Prime Minister, my ultimate conclusion was that he did so with an eye toward the presidential election. While Pres Battulga seems to have thought that Su Batbold might be a likely nominee some weeks ago, it currently seems like Khurelsukh is very likely to be the MPP’s nominee.

To be nominated, Khurelsukh will have to resign from the party, of course, and thus also relinquish his position as chairman of the party. Given the MPP’s super-majority in parliament, the default would be for the party chairman to also be the prime minister (and vice versa). L Oyun-Erdene will certainly want to try to also be elected as party chairman. This give him a strong stake in the election as prime minister since the possibility of a Khurelsukh defeat would make the party leadership picture somewhat more muddled.

Khurelsukh Candidacy

In the Fall I would have still said that Khurelsukh’s chances at being elected were very good. He cruised to a re-election victory in last year’s parliamentary election and that victory seemed like an endorsement of his leadership particularly in efforts to combat air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, but also in Mongolia’s battle against COVID. It’s that latter aspect that makes his victory seem less certain now and perhaps more dependent on the developments of the coming weeks and months regarding outbreaks and vaccination.

In international comparisons, Mongolia had seemed quite successful largely through decisive measures and the closing of the few entry points in Spring of 2020. But that success fell apart a bit in November when local transmission started and it has been a see-saw process of declining and rising-again infections since. Even though impact in Mongolia has been relatively minor, the same kind of strange dynamics of lockdown fatigue, impatience for a re-opening and debates about vaccination priorities are playing out in Mongolia as elsewhere in the world. Toward late March now, it seems like an increase in infections along the lines of what is happening in Europe may be likely. How PM Oyun-Erdene will respond and how Mongolians will react to that response seems likely to have an impact on Khurelsukh’s chances in the election.

President Khurelsukh?

As I wrote above, a transition from Pres Battulga to a Pres Khurelsukh would not be abrupt in policy terms. It would turn the super-majority that the MPP holds in parliament into a general mega-majority because it would give the MPP the three highest offices and thus control of the National Security Council and would – presumably – reduce any likelihood of conflict between the president and the prime minister/parliament.

Khurelsukh’s own military background might make him more interested in the military than previous presidents have been, but that would not really be likely to lead to a change in policy. In foreign policy where the Battulga presidency has seen a significant decline in Mongolia’s relevance to the world, Khurelsukh is unlikely to make much of a change. His personal preferences might drive less of his activities and perhaps he would follow the examples of MPP foreign minister in re-engaging Third Neighbours, but he doesn’t seem to be a personality that really emphasizes international relations in the way that Pres. Elbegdorj did, for example. His response to crises (flashpoints with China like language policy or, at some point, Dalai Lama succession) might be more careful, measured and predictable than Pres. Battulga’s.

There’s little in his tenure as prime minister to suggest that he would attempt to use the mega-majority as a springboard to more personal power a la various “strong men”.

Democratic Party

Who knows at this point? The DP really seem to lose their mojo with the parliamentary election last year and protracted leadership battles since then. It is hard to imagine that the party would rally behind Battulga in a re-election bid, in fact it seems uncertain that the party would even nominate him. There does not seem to be a clear front-runner for the candidacy should the DP not nominate Battulga, but his nomination in 2017 was also not quite expected and look what happened then!

Candidate Battulga

And it’s not only the DP nomination that may be an obstacle to a re-election bid. While the constitutional amendments in 2019 ultimately gained Pres Battulga’s support and that was interpreted to mean that the change in the presidential term to a single, but longer term would allow him to stand for re-election, that appears to be ambiguous. The constitutional question in part circles around a determination of whether the amendments re-set the clock on the presidential term, so that Battulga would enter not to be re-elected but to be elected under new circumstances. If he were to be nominated, constitutional shenanigans would almost certainly ensue.

If not the DP, would another party nominate him? I could certainly imagine N Enkhbayar negotiating a deal that would trade a nomination (thumbing his nose at the MPP) for his own reinstatement for future elections. But, the perennially-talked-about re-merger of the MPP and the MPRP is also, once again, um, being talked about.

Battulga would be free of the whiff of a failing COVID response since his role has been quite limited. He is also relatively free of any notable successes and even after four years in office, I can still not identify a specific policy or initiative that he is pursuing. Of course, Mongolian voters might see that very differently.

Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party

Who knows at this point? Maybe Ulaanbaatar taxi drivers could tell us, but I am unable to visit…

XYH

One of the great successes of the election of XYH’s T Dorjkhand to parliament was that representation of the party gives it the chance to nominate a candidate for president.

In February, the party turned to a public nomination process and some strong (if ineligible due to an outrageously restrictive, but near-universal citizenship requirement) candidates emerged:

Dorjkhand himself is (also) ineligible for being too young. While electoral coalitions can always emerge, I certainly expect XYH to nominate a candidate and maybe they’ll make a bold choice. I have to admit that I liked some of the rumoured possibilities like former MP Oyun (though she seems not to be inclined) or Jargal de Facto. Very hard to even guess at what the chances of a very prominent and credible XYH candidate might be and whether such a candidate would lead to vote-splitting with the DP (depending on their candidate).

If a XYH candidate were to be elected, that could bring some significant change in political style to instigate a change in political culture, but policy differences would be somewhat limited.

Posted in Democracy, Democratic Party, Foreign Policy, Military, Mongolian People's Party, Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, National Labor Party, Presidential 2021 | Tagged | Leave a comment

Outrage Over PM’s Suggestion to Draft Young Women into Military

By Marissa J. Smith

The #огцор hashtag is back (#cancelPM #огцор9 #ОгцорEC) after PM Oyun-Erdene made comments about drafting young women, who were characterized as getting married and having children at a young age rather than working, as he chaired the National Committee on Gender meeting on Friday, March 5.

Despite much fanfare around Oyun-Erdene’s youth, to this analyst these comments harken back to the 1980s, when countries throughout the Eastern Bloc sought to power through economic stagnation by severely disciplining youth.

Mongolian women have much higher graduation rates than do men, yet have lower rates of formal employment, earn less, and hold many fewer higher level positions. More often working in the informal sector, as detailed in a December 2020 ADB report women have in some ways been even more impacted than men by COVID19-related hits to the Mongolian and global economies.

The following clip began circulating on twitter on Friday:

Former multiple-term-MP and potential presidential candidate Ts. Oyungerel responded to the comments on twitter, arguing that young women work very hard raising young children, and that a draft might “send the wrong message,” as if Mongolia were “preparing for war”:

As Bulgan brought to my attention, on Friday PM Oyun-Erdene apologized for “upsetting people before the holiday,” but said that the “content” of his comments rather than their “form” should be paid attention to, by the public and by news media.

One twitter user responded “Resign, in content and in form!”

Monday, March 8, will be Women’s Day, a major public holiday in Mongolia. Some on twitter are calling for a demonstration on the square (#БиОчно), where there is already an exhibition set up on the issue of rampant domestic violence happening “behind closed doors” (see hashtag #Хаалга).

UPDATE:

@hariad_uyanga adds:

(CEDAW is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women)

The response on Twitter has been swift and markedly sophisticated in the use of hashtags and graphics. The 8>9 motto is a poignant example of that response:

Posted in Gender, Mongolian People's Party, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Mongolian Democracy Through the Lens of Animal Farm

By Bulgan Batdorj

When I recently read the book Animal Farm by George Orwell, a book written as an allegorical critique of the Soviet Union in 1945, I could not help but compare the characters and story to Mongolia. The story seems to be a satirical mockery of both (midterm) democratic Mongolia or (short term) Mongolia in a pandemic. 

Let me briefly share some of my reflections concerning democratic Mongolia, not Mongolia in the pandemic. 

Mongolian Democracy on an Animal Farm

On the next day of the revolution at “Manor Farm,” the animals successfully expelled Jones, the farmer, and his people, they put up the “Animal Farm” sign at the gate. The pigs (the educated) have reduced animalism to seven commandments, the seventh reads, “All animals are equal”.

In 1990, Mongolia declared its democracy, freedom and human rights. The revolution came with high enthusiasm and energy, similar to the Animal Farm, that they are proud to be in charge of their fate. However, the twist comes when the leadership changes from Snowball to Napoleon. Snowball is a pig, a dreamer and a visionary concerned with planning, progress, education and equality; he loses the leadership to Napoleon shortly after the revolution. Napoleon is an ambitious opportunist pig, he starts to take every opportunity to consolidate his power over the farm at the very early stage. Right after the revolution, he takes nine puppies from Jessie and Bluebell, and raises them as his bodyguards, scaring and doing away with anyone who opposed Napoleon’s intent. He rules the animal farm through propaganda and fear. 

Napoleon could symbolize the public’s bad faith (equating Napoleon to our current president could be easy, but it would be personal and somehow very wrong). When the administration changed Mongolia from communism to democracy, the shift of underlying societal values (beyond the written democratic principles) was not considered. During communism, the priority of one’s action had to be for the common good, and the self-benefit is secondary (or at least have to be seen as such, even the latter is the intent). However, in a context with limited (minimal) resources, a free-market economy may have translated as self-benefit at the commons’ cost. Corruption, nepotism, partisan, and populism (Napoleon) have outsoared meritocracy, humility, and truth (Snowball), and we (Mongolians) have been in denial and confusion, as many of the animals, Boxer the horse, Clower the mare, and Muriel, the goat.

The sheep play an interesting role in the tyranny of Napoleon. They bleat “four legs good, two legs bad,” which later changed to “four legs good, two legs better” after they have been trained through Napoleon’s propagandist initiative. These sheep do not understand (they are not smart at all) animalism or its principles; still, their bleating washes away any opposition. This reminds me of the ignorance of our people or sometimes the thousands of fake social media account, bleating away something which eventually drowns big disasters – if stayed long enough, it could have triggered accountability.

 “Benjamin,” the donkey, cynical and silent, but convinced that “Life will go on as it has always gone on – that is, badly”, represents a big chunk of Mongolians those who are living without feeling, living without belief, or those who lost faith in Democracy. These are the group that enables Napoleon to take over our faith and freedom.

As I said, it is a cautionary tale, but when “All aminals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” happens, it would be too late to shift course. For those who would like to (re)read Animal Farm, please visit the Gutenberg project here

[I am born and raised in Mongolia. I take much pride in Mongolia’s development and progress, but the general trends of politics and governance have not been so promising lately, which saddens me greatly. Please feel free to write in the comment on where do you think/feel the country is heading towards.]

Posted in Bulgan Batdorj, Corruption, Democracy, Development | Tagged | Leave a comment

Oyun-Erdene Cabinet

By Bulgan B, Marissa Smith and Julian Dierkes

After U Khurelsukh’s sudden resignation, the MPP moved swiftly to nominate 2-time MP and serving Cabinet Secretary L Oyun-Erdene as Prime Minister.

As speculated, (see: here, here, and here), the new Cabinet is in many respects continuous with the last Cabinet. However, a few surprises:

  • Ts Nyamdorj as Cabinet Secretary. This appointment calls for reassessment of claims that the new Prime Minister and new cabinet represent a generational turn. Nyamdorj has been a major figure in Mongolian politics, serving as an MP seven times and Minister of Justice three times (including in Khurelsukh’s first cabinet). In recent years, he took a very visible role in Parliamentary standing committees investigating the “privatization” of Erdenet.
  • Despite speculation that Ch Khurelbaatar would remain as Minister of Finance, he has been replaced by B Javklhan.
  • N Enkhtaivan, who was also reportedly expected to remain in the Cabinet, has been replaced by B Battsetseg.
  • The Minister of Health, T Munkhsaikhan, who some speculated might return, did not, but his replacement is also a young doctor, S Enkhbold, and not a former Minister of Health. Former Minister of Health and Minister of Environment in the prior Cabinet, D Sarangerel, who was recently featured in a World Health Organization production praising Mongolia’s COVID-19 response, is not in the new cabinet.
  • While Khurelbaatar and Sarangerel are MPs, N Enkhtaivan is not. B Battsetseg, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, ran in the 2020 elections but was not elected.
  • The former Deputy Prime Minister and Head of the State Emergency Commission, Ya Sodbaatar, is also not an MP.

Prime Minister (Монгол Улсын Ерөнхий Сайд): MP L OYUN-ERDENE (Лувсаннамсрайн Оюун-Эрдэнэ)
Born 1980 in Ulaanbaatar
Journalist, Lawyer
Graduated from Bers Institute
Mongolian State National University, Mongolian Education University 2008
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University 2015
Worked in Governors Office of Berkh city, Khentii 20012002
World Vision 2002-2008
Head, Social Development Department of Bayanzurkh District Governor’s Secretariat 2008-2009
MPP Governing Board Secretariat 2009
Head of Party Organization Department, MPP 2009-2011
Secretary, MPP 2011-2012
Acting Secretary-General, MPP 2012
President of MPP SDM Youth Association 2010 – 2015
(Sanders 217, 650)
Secretary of the Mongolian People’s Party 2011-2012
Acting General Secretary of the Mongolian People’s Party 2012
Member of Parliament 2016-Present
Cabinet Secretary 2017-Present

Deputy Prime Minister  (Шадар сайд): MP S AMARSAIKHAN (С. Амарсайхан)
Born 1973, Nalaikh, Ulaanbaatar
Linguist and Lawyer, Fresno College (California) 1996;
English Metropolitan College, 1998
Los Angeles College, 2000
Master’s degree in law from Southwestern University
Staff at Science and Information Technology Center 1992-1994
Attache at the Embassy of Mongolia to PRC, 2000-2004
Manager of Investment and Foreign Trade at American Trade and Development, 2004-2007
CEO, President and Director of BOD, Oyunii Undraa Group LLC 2007-2017
Member of the Citizen Representative Council 2012-2020
Head of the budget, finance and economic committee of the Citizen Representative Council 2016-2017
Chairman of the Citizen Representative Council 2017-2019
Mayor of Ulaanbaatar 2019-2020
Member of Parliament 2020-Present

Cabinet Secretary  (Хэрэг эрхлэх газрын дарга): TS NYAMDORJ (Цэндийн Нямдорж)
Born 1956 in Malchin, Uvs province
Lawyer graduated from Leningrad State University in 1981
Prosecutor, unit and department head of the State General Prosecution Office 1981-1988
First deputy of the Military Prosecutor General 1988-1990
Deputy Minister of Justice 1990-1992
MP since 1992 to 2020 (7 times)
Member, MPRP Little Khural
1998-1999, Head of MPRP group in Parliament
Minister of Justice 2000-2004;  2008-2012; 2017-2020
Speaker of the Parliament 2005-2007;
Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immunity of Members of the State Great Hural 2016-Present
Deputy Speaker of the Parliament 2016-2017

Minister of Environment and Tourism (Байгаль орчин, аялал жуулчлалын сайд): N URTNASAN (Н. Уртнасан)
Born 1975, Selenge province
Journalist, Graduated from MUST 1998, Attended schools in Japan 2003, and Germany 2005
Director, Editor, MM News Agency, 1995-2000
Director of the News Unit with Eagle TV 1998-2000
JRT TV (Japan Radio Television) in Tokushima, Japan 2002-2003
Deutsche Welle (DW TV) 2005
Producer and Journalist at Mongolian National Broadcaster 2000-2010
General Director, TV5 2005-2011
Executive Director Shine Delkhii TV 2011-2013
KBS and MBC in South Korea 2008 to 2013
Marketing Director, C & C LLC since 2013
Marketing Director, Executive Director and Manager at Uni Solar LLC 2014-2020
President, Mongolian United Association of Journalists 2005-2011
Secretary of the MPP 2011-2012
Member of Parliament 2012-Present

Minister of Defense (Батлан хамгаалахын сайд): G SAIKHANBAYAR (Гүрсэдийн Сайханбаяр)
Born 1968 in Ulaanbaatar
Graduated from Defense University (Цэргийн нэгдсэн дээд сургууль) 1985
Public Administration and Development Institute under the Government of Mongolia, 1989
National Defense University of PRC, 2002
The Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, 2014
Specialist officer, Department of Training, Cultural Promotion and Discipline, and Head of the working group on Information, cultural promotion disciplinary work, 1994-2000
Deputy head and Head,  Department of Public Administration and Management at the Ministry of Defense, 2000-2012
Head (Үүргийг түр орлог гүйцэтгэгч) of the Department of Strategic Policy and Planning at the Ministry of Defense, 2014 – 2020

Minister of Foreign Affairs (Гадаад харилцааны сайд): B BATTSETSEG ( Батмөнхийн Батцэцэг)
Born in 1973 in aimag center of Bayankhongor province
Graduated secondary school, Darkhan
Graduated from International Relations School at MUST in 1996
Directors of publishing houses Az Khur LLC, and Munkhiin Useg LLC 1996 to 2004
Institute of Finance and Economy 2000; Maastricht University of Management in 2005
Unit Director at Foreign Investment and Foreign Trade Agency, 2005-2007
Chairman of the board, Munkhiin Useg 2007-2015
Advisor to MPP Secretary-General, 2010-2011
Administration office, and Head of Foreign Relations and Cooperation Department of MPP 2010-2012
Director of the Board of Directors of Munkhiin Useg Publishing 2020 to Jan 28, 2021
Advisor to the Minister of Finance 2015-2016
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs 2016-2020

Minister of Finance (Сангийн сайд): MP B. JAVKLAN ( Б.Жавхлан)
Born 1975 in Darkhan
Economist, graduated from MUST in 1997
University of California, Riverside, 2008
Indiana University, 2009
Controller, Mongolbank 1997-1999
Plenipotentiary Mongolbank Representative to Agricultural Bank 1999-2000
Senior Controller, Mongolbank, 2000-2004
Deputy Director of the Trade and Development Bank 2004-2007
Elected to MPP Little Khural, 2013
MP since 2016 to Present
Head of Parliamentary Subcommittee for Local Leadership, 2016-2020
Deputy Vice President of the Bank of Mongolia 2010-2016
Chairman of the Standing Committee on Budget of the State Great Hural of Mongolia 2020-Present

Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs (Хууль зүй дотоод хэргийн сайд): KH NYAMBAATAR (Хишгээгийн Нямбаатар)
Born 1978, in Ulaanbaatar
Teacher, Orkhon University 2000-2007
Lawyer, Mongolian Defense Lawyer’s Association
Advocate at the Mongolian Bar Association 2005-2008
Legal Adviser at the Songinokhairkhan District Governor’s Office 2008-2009
Head of the Public Administration Department at the Songinokhairkhan District Governor’s Office 2009-2012
Acting Director of Governor’s Office, Songinokhairkhan, 2011-2012
Chairman of Songinokhairkhan District Citizens’ Representatives’ Khural 2012-2016
Deputy Chairman, Songinokhiarkhan District MPP Committee
Vice President of MPP SDM Youth Association 2015 – ?
Member, Ikh Khural (Songinokhairkhan) 2016-2020
2016(?) income declaration — 30 million MNT income, savings of 15 million, shares in Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi and Best Drilling
(Sanders 2017, 633)
Chairman of the State Great Hural’s Standing Committee on Legal Affairs 2019-2020
Member of Ikh Khural, 2020 – 2024 (Songinokhairkhan)

Minister of Labour and Social Protection  (Хөдөлмөр, нийгмийн хамгааллын сайд): A ARIUNZAYA (Аюушийн Ариунзаяа)
Born 1980, Ulaanbaatar
Moscow International Relations University 1996-1999
Hannover University 2005
Leadership Academy 2014-2015
Manager, Human Resources, Mongol Daatgal Insurance Company 2005-2015
Head of the Party Organization, Strategy, and Planning Directorate, head of economic policy, head of socio-economic policy, MPP 2013 – 2016
MPP Little Khural 2013 – ?
(Sanders 2017, 66)
Chairperson, National Statistical Office of Mongolia in 2016-2020

Minister of Construction and Urban Development (Барилга, хот байгуулалтын яам): B MUNKHBAATAR (Бэгжавын Мөнхбаатар)
Born, 1975, Ulaanbaatar
University of Science and Technology 1993
Mongolian State University, East London University business school 2004-2006
Mongolian Democratic Socialist Students’ Association 1998-2001
Senior Political Worker, Ulaanbaatar Committee of MPP 2001-2002
Deputy head, State Administration, Management, and Cooperation Department, Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture 2002- 2004
Head, External Relations Department, Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture 2002 – 2004
Director, City Policy and Planning Strategy Office, Ulaanbaatar Governor’s Secretariat 2006-2008
Chairman, Council of the Ulaanbaatar Section of the Mongolian Democratic Socialist Youth Association 2008
Governor, Bayanzurkh District 2008
Deputy Governor of Ulaanbaatar (one of four) 2008 – 2012
Deputy Governor of the Capital City in charge of Construction, Urban Development and Infrastructure 2008-2012
MPRP Little Khural 2009 – ?
Chairman, UB MPRP Committee 2009 -2012
Member, MPRP Leadership Council 2009
Candidate, Ikh Khural Election, MPP, Bayanzurkh and Nalaikh 2012
Deputy Minister of Population Development and Social Welfare 2014-2015
Member, Little Khural of MPP 2010 – 2016(?)
(Sanders 2017, 601)
Board Member, Oyu Tolgoi LLC in 2016-2018
CEO of Erdenes Oyu Tolgoi 2016 – 2018
Deputy Minister of Construction and Urban Development 2018-20

Minister of Education and Science (Боловсрол, шинжлэх ухааны сайд): MP. L ENKH-AMGALAN (Л. Энх-Амгалан)
Born 1970 in Khuvsgul; graduated secondary school in Murun
Economist and IT Engineer, Graduated from the University of Saint Peterburg in 1992; Dakota University [sic] in USA the in 1996; and Hangdon University in 2002
Director-General of Interpress LLC 1995-1996
Editor in Chief at Il Tovchoo Newspaper, Montsame Agency 1992-1995
Vice President of MCS Group, Board of Directors of Unitel Group 1996-2012
Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mongolia, 2011-2012
Member of Executive Committee of the MPP, 2012-Present
Member of Parliament since 2012-Present
Chairman of the Standing Committee on Education, Culture and Science, Deputy Speaker of the State Great Hural, 2016-2017
Deputy Speaker of the State Great Hural 2017-2020
Chairman of the Standing Committee on State Structure of the State Great Hural from 2020

Minister of Road and Transport Development (Зам, тээврийн хөгжлийн сайд): L KHALTAR (Лувсангийн Халтар)
Born 1967 in Darvi soum, Khovd Aimag
Graduated from St.Petersburg State Transport University in 1990, and the St Petersburg State University of Railway Communications in 1999, a trained engineer and holds a Ph.D.
A cleaner at the office of the Ulaanbaatar Railroad jointly owned institute (хувь нийлүүлсэн нийгэмлэг), 1983
Loader (ачигч) of  trade depot  at the Ulaanbaatar Railroad, 1983-1985
Teacher at Railroad College of Ulaanbaatar Railroad, 1990-1992
Deputy head, Loading, and offloading command, Ulaanbaatar Railroad, 1992-1993
Director of the Freight Forwarder Center, Ulaanbaatar Railroad, 1993-2006
Deputy Director, Management Authority, Ulaanbaatar Railroad, 2006-2018
Deputy Minister Road and Transport Development 2018-2020

Ministry of Culture (Соёлын сайд): CH NOMIN (Чинбатын Номин)
Born 1983, Ulaanbaatar
Daughter of Chinbat, Director of Gatsuurt Company (gold mining and agriculture)
University of East Anglia in 2003, Economics and Accounting 2006;
Director of External Relations of the Gatsuurt Group, 2006-2007
Manager, Terelj Hotel (owned by Gatsuurt), 2007
Director of “Terelj Suikh” LLC 2008-2011;
Harvard Business School 2018;
Executive Director of Mongol TV 2011-to Present

Minister of Mining and Heavy Industry (Уул уурхай, хүнд үйлдвэрийн сайд): G YONDON (Гэлэнгийн Ёндон)
Born 1967 in Ulaanbaatar
Graduated from Irkutsk State Technical University as mining and metallurgy engineer, 1991, Mongolian Engineer Advisor and holds PhD
Researcher at the Institute of Mining, 1991-1998
Metallurgist and Chief Metallurgist at Bor Ondor, Metallurgical Plant, at “Mongolrostsvetmet”, State-owned enterprise, 2002-2007
Director of the department at “Mongolrostsvetmet”, State-owned enterprise, 2007-2009
Director of the “Shijir Alt” factory, “Mongolrostsvetmet”, State-owned enterprise, 2009-2013
Director of the “Bargilt” factory, “Mongolrostsvetmet”, State-owned enterprise2013-2017
Deputy Director of the Ulaanbaatar Representative Office of Erdenet, State-owned enterprise, 2017-2018
Deputy Director, Production, “Mongolrostsvetmet”, State-owned enterprise, 2018-2020

 Minister of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry (Хүнс, хөдөө аж ахуй, хөнгөн үйлдвэрийн сайд): Z MENDSAIKHAN (Загджавын Мэндсайхан)
Born 1979, Myangad soum, Khovd Aimag
Attended 10-year middle school in Myangad, Khovd
Institute of Finance and Economics of Mongolia 2001, Management Academy 2006-2008
Executive director and director-general of a private company 2001 – 2014
Department Manager and Director of “Monkhangai House” LLC 2001-2003 Executive Director of “Durvun Uul” LLC 2003-2004
Executive Director of “Meeg” LLC 2004-2013
Executive Director of “MTM” LLC 2013-2015
Head, Budgetary Investment Directorate, Ministry of Finance 2015-2016
State Secretary, Ministry of Energy 2016 – 2019
(Sanders 2017, 521)

 Minister of Energy (Эрчим хүчний сайд): N TAVINBEKH (Нансалын Тавинбэх)
Born 1971, graduated secondary school in Baganuur
Graduated from the University of Science and Technology, Management Academy in 1994, 2005. Electrical Engineer holds Masters in Business and Energy.
Electrician, head of unit and engineer with the Maintenance department, Baganuur Electricity and Network, 1995-2001
Deputy Director, Chief Engineer at “Baganuur South-Eastern Region Electricity Distribution Network“,  2001-2007
Executive Director, “Baganuur South-Eastern Region Electricity Distribution Network” LLC, 2007-2013
Mayor of Baganuur city, 2015-2017
Executive Director, “Baganuur South-Eastern Region Electricity Distribution Network” LLC, 2017-2020

Minister of Health (Эрүүл мэндийн сайд): S ENKHBOLD (С. Энхболд)
Born 1979 in Ulaanbaatar
Graduated from Health Sciences University in 2004; 2006; 2020
Masters in Medical Science, Nagoya, Japan
Director of the Imaging and Radiology Department at the State Central Hospital #1 2007-2019
Director of the State Central Hospital #2 since 2019-present

Sources of information for this post include:

Шинэ Сайдуудын Товч Намтар

Л.Оюун-Эрдэнийн танхимын сайд нарын хэн нь хэн бэ? | News.MN

Alan J. K. Sanders’ Historical Dictionary of Mongolia, Fourth Ed., Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017)

(https://gereg.mn/news/58954)

Posted in Agriculture, Education, Energy, Foreign Policy, Ikh Khural 2020, Mongolian People's Party, Policy, Policy, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Mongolian Hunger Striking — DP to MPRP?

By Marissa J. Smith

After the massive #уокогцор strikes last week that preceded the resignation of Prime Minister U. Khurelsukh and his Cabinet, the weekend also saw demonstrations with fewer participants begin on Sukhbaatar Square, focusing on the OT agreement.

MP S. Ganbaatar of the MPRP, who was elected in the Ikh Khural 2020 elections and also ran as the MPRP Presidential candidate in 2016, settled on the square in front of the Parliament Building, with a poster announcing that he was hunger striking “for Oyu Tolgoi that has been taken from the People, who have become few.” The words, written also in the alternating red/sky blue of the Mongolian flag, are unabashedly national-populist. Updates on the demonstration, continuing at the time of writing, can be viewed on Facebook by searching the hashtag ‪#‎өлсгөлөн_зарлаж (“Hunger striking”) and on Ganbaatar’s facebook page.

(S. Ganbaatar and his placard, from change.org petition)

This led Julian to point out to our regular contributors that the hunger strike is an established form of political action in modern Mongolia, at least, and ask us to put our heads together to consider how it has become an established form.

Here is what we have come up with:

  • We know of no instances prior to 1990 of hunger strikes being used in Mongolia as a form of organized political protest.
  • Discussing the 1990 hunger strikes organized by the Mongolian Democratic Union, in his Modern Mongolia (2005), Morris Rossabi cites interviews with Tomor-Ochiriin Erdenebileg to suggest that inspiration was drawn from the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.
  • As Mendee Jargalsaikhan writes in his PhD dissertation (p. 79), there were also April, 1990 hunger strikes in Khuvsgul and elsewhere outside of Ulaanbaatar.
  • In his “Mongolia in 1994” overview for Asian Survey, Sheldon Severinghaus documented a hunger strike organized by the Mongolian Democratic Union.
  • One of our regular contributors also collected interviews that credited Dr. Charles Hyder, an American physicist whose hunger strike of over 200 days in front of The White House in 1986, with inspiration. Hyder was widely publicized throughout the Soviet Bloc as a counterpart to Sakharov. Rossabi also includes mention of “a hunger strike conducted in front of the White House by an American scientist” in his discussion, citing Jasper Becker (though apparently conflating Hyder’s anti-nuclear waste storage movement of the 1980s with anti-Vietnam War protest).
  • After his conviction and sentencing, former MPRP President N. Enkhbayar conducted a hunger strike and was hospitalized. Images of of Enkhbayar in hospital were widely circulated and probably remembered by many readers of the blog.

It appears that the form of the “hunger strike,” which S. Ganbaatar is currently enacting, was established in 1990 and continued to be used by Mongolian Democratic Union parties until 1994, at least. However, since the 2010s it has been MPRP (Enkhbayar himself and at least one member of his party which split from the MPRP in 2011 — S. Ganbaatar) that has used the “hunger strike.” It is also notable that the #уокогцор protests did not feature hunger strikes, and though A. Otgonbayar, another third party politician who ran as part of the Shine Esvel coalition in the 2020 Parliamentary elections, joined S. Ganbaatar on the square, when he was one of the first participants in the #уокогцор protests he dressed up as a new mother. (For the OT agreement demonstrations, S. Ganbaatar and A. Otgonbayar have appeared in quite masculine “traditional” Mongolian furs).

(A. Otgonbayar being interviewed on Facebook Live by Ugluu.mn, 1/20/21)

In conclusion, at the present moment at least, to hunger strike seems to call not only upon the 1990 demonstrations, but also to put oneself in solidarity with Enkhbayar as a “victim of corruption,” so it is unsurprising perhaps that hunger striking is not a more widespread form of political action in today’s Mongolia.

(Now the #уокогцор protests did also feature people stripping down to bathing suits and underwear in the cold — now where did that come from?!)

Posted in Democratic Party, History, Human Rights, Marissa Smith, Mining, Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, Oyu Tolgoi, Oyu Tolgoi, Politics, Social Media, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

PM Khurelsukh Resigns Suddenly

By Julian Dierkes

Over 30 years of Mongolia’s democratic history we have seen a lot of surprising developments. By comparison, recent months seemed relatively calm. The Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) cruised to a first-ever consecutive election victory, seemingly on the strength of Prime Minster U Khurelsukh’s fight against urban air pollution and its management of the COVID response. For the election, Khurelsukh managed to shunt some party opposition aside and replace them with a list of younger new candidates, many of whom entered parliament. It seemed like this course would continue for Khurelsukh to a nomination as the MPP’s presidential candidate in the upcoming (June 2021) election. Given Khurelsukh’s managerial success and lack of political vision, the more ceremonial office of the president seemed to be an obvious destination for him. So, all relatively calm. Then Khurelsukh resigned as Prime Minister and his resignation was accepted by parliament. WOT?

Here is my sense of the sequence of events and some speculation around these events.

Protests

I first heard about the protests from a contact who was delighted to see them and described them as “a very natural organic protest by youth under 25”. Genuine outrage about the heinous treatment of a young mother and COVID patient who had just given birth. Clearly, that protest built up to a broader expression of dissatisfaction with some aspects of the COVID response, but also broader issues around press freedom, etc. L Bolor has described these protests and the issues that have come up well in her piece for The Diplomat. See the #УОКогцор  hashtag for some online versions of these protests. It is a little less clear whether initial protesters were not joined later by more organized participants.

To me, it seems clear that these protests were not somehow devilishly orchestrated or planned from what I have heard from contacts and what Bolor has written.

But it also seems clear that the single case of this patient, as inhumane as her treatment was, should not really bring down a government. It would have seemed more appropriate for a hospital administrator to resign, or perhaps someone, maybe even the Minister, within the Ministry of Health. But the Prime Minister?

Resignation

But he did resign. And he did so, taking a swipe at Pres. Battulga, accusing him of undermining national unity. Given the reported nature of the protests, that accusation seems a bit rich. Sure, Pres. Battulga is driven by political schemes in his actions, I would argue, as is evident in the complete lack of a substantive agenda to his presidency. One might think only of his (now abandoned?) push for the reinstatement of capital punishment as an example of his willingness to create populist fervour for issues he grabs onto without that actually being part of any kind of coherent agenda. And sure, Pres. Battulga seems intent on running for re-election despite the ambiguity in constitutional amendments regarding his ability to do so and despite a nomination by the DP not being a done deal at all, particularly since Ts Oyungerel has announced her candidacy. This announcement in itself was quite surprising to me, of course, given Oyungerel’s very active support for Battulga in the 2017 election.

Battulga also seems to be taking swipes at former PM Su Batbold, possibly including the recent law suit against Batbold in a New York court that seems to be a collection of some allegations regarding contracts at Erdenet, though there is little concrete evidence of Batbold profiting from these, and even more vague allegations around Oyu Tolgoi as they have been brought against a number of other former officials.

But, in the end, Battulga seems to have been taken by surprise by Khurelsukh’s response that he would resign as Prime Minister.

Why Resign?

The next obvious question then becomes: Why did Khurelsukh take this seemingly extreme step of resigning?

Some messaging and tweeting leads to the following as the most plausible explanation: big political theatre staged to be a grand accountability gesture in preparation for a presidential campaign.

That logic seems to be rooted in recognition that things are not going as well at the moment as they were earlier last year. COVID keeps flaring up, renewed lockdowns take an economic toll, Mongolians – like many people around the world – are tired of living under an existential threat… Khurelsukh might worry that his perception of effective governing was beginning to crack.

So, better to resign in a grand gesture than continue to preside over a challenging situation? And, framing that gesture in accountability terms is a preview of the presidential campaign where Battulga is fairly easily portrayed as not being accountable in any obvious way, though he might counter that elections is the place directly-elected presidents are held accountable, or at least that used to be the case when re-election was possible. In any case, resignation makes Khurelsukh looks like he is responsive to public sentiment, willing to take responsibility, all of which then is turned into him being the honourable leader that a president should be.

I cannot see any logic for the resignation if Khurelsukh is not fairly certain of being nominated as the presidential candidate by the MPP. And his resignation as PM does not mean that he resigns as party chair in any case.

What’s Next?

On Friday, the MPP party council will meet to select a nominee for prime minister. That nomination would be submitted to the president. Forgive me for my confusion [happy to edit this section if responses can enlighten me], but I am not sure whether there is any room for the president to refuse the nomination as has happened frequently in the past, or whether that step has been changed by the 2019 constitutional amendments. Once this nominee is submitted to parliament, the MPP’s super-majority there should guarantee election.

The only person that would seem a somewhat obvious-to-me choice at this point to succeed Khurelsukh would be L Oyun-Erdene, MP and cabinet secretary. He is one of the few members from the previous cabinet who were re-appointed. He has been prominent as the author of Vision 2050. I would have guessed that he would be one of the candidates to succeed Khurelsukh when he has to step down from the party chair as part of the nomination as a presidential candidate. Of course, Oyun-Erdene is closely associated with Khurelsukh, so if the turmoil this week is somehow a sign of other actors in the MPP staging a revolt against Khurelsukh, then perhaps Oyun-Erdene might not be selected by the party council. There may well be other candidates, including any rebels against Khurelsukh, but I am not really aware of any specific individuals.

I am far too far removed to speculate about cabinet appointments and whether some of the expert ministers under Khurelsukh would simply roll over to a new cabinet after having only served for just over six months.

Posted in Health, Mongolian People's Party, Party Politics, Politics, Presidential 2021, Protest, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

2020 Mongolia Focus in Review

By Julian Dierkes

This summer, we will celebrate the tenth anniversary of our blog, though one would have to be very hopeful that this will involve a reunion of our regular authors together in one place.

It will also be the 30th anniversary of my first trip through Mongolia in 1991.

As I’ve done in some previous years (2019 | 2018 | 2016 | 2015 | 2012), here’s a review of our blog in the past year, 2020.

Blog Readers

Posted in Reflection, Research on Mongolia, Social Media | Leave a comment

Podcast: 77Nation

On Dec 11 2020, I appeared on the 77Nation podcast for a wide-ranging discussion of Mongolian politics with L Bolor, E Enkhtamir, and B Geser.

Posted in Constitution, Democracy, Elections, Ikh Khural 2020, International Relations, Podcast, Politics | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Spirituality and Wisdom Cherished by “The Legend of the Shaman”

By OTGONSUREN Jargal 

I know one researcher, a woman from Europa who researches shamanism and admires the magic of Mongolian shamans. She says that her life has changed dramatically after become a researcher and every summer she comes to Mongolia, staying in a shaman’s ger and doing meditation and performing shaman’s rituals.

But I’m not going to talk about her, I’m going write about an author and his novel which depicts shamanic phenomenal things.

During a journey to Buryatia, Ayurzana met Tseren shaman who was well-known in a community of ethnic Buryats in Russia. That is how Ayurzana was unexpectedly struck with the motif of his novel “The Legend of the Shaman”, remarkable works inspired by shamanic spiritual power.

AYURZANA Gun-Aajav poet, fiction/nonfiction writer, is a graduate of the Maxim Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow. He has published seven books of poetry, two collections of short stories, several non-fiction books and novels. Ayurzana’s poems have been translated and published in more than 30 languages including Hungarian, Serbian, Macedonian, Turkish and Maltese. “The Wing of Dying Bird” (“Амь тавьж буй шувууны далавч”) and “The Legend of the Shaman” (“Бөөгийн домог”) in Korean translation called big resonance between readers as if “The Debt of Ten Dreams” (“Арван зүүдний өр”) in Russian translation.

His most recent novels “Mysteries of Sacred Khangai Mountains” (Сахиуст хангайн нууц. 2017) and “Spirit Formula ” (Сүнсний томьёо.2019) are continuing the atmosphere of his previous novels like “Shugden” (Шүгдэн. 2012), “White Black Red” (Цагаан хар улаан.2014) and “The Pulse Sound” (Судасны чимээ. 2015). He has been awarded the title of Person of Culture, considered the most prestigious award in his country in the field of culture, in 2009. Since 2000 he has been a author and probably the only Mongolian writer who can live off his books.

“The Legend of the Shaman” (2010) is one of his very appealing novels that depicts the destruction of the Buryat people’s ethnicity and culture on the theme of shamanism, as well as the theme of love in the hidden space of the human mind. The main character of the novel Hagdai is based on the real story of a famous, hereditary shaman, Tseren, who lived in Buryatia, until recently.  He was the one who has preserved the roots of ancient shamanism, and the author has visited him and made a profound study of the meaning behind shamanism.

Generally, this novel implies the gift of prophecy which is given from heaven to Hagdai shaman of Buryatia. In addition to depicting magical phenomena such as drinking a mushroom drink that gives magical power, traveling through the spirit world, connecting with ancestral spirits, and being treated by shamanic magic for a mentally ill person who could not be cured by medical doctors, the author intertwisted essence of the philosophy of Buddhism with the concept of dharma.

According to Hagdai shamans, “there is no religion in the world that is not taken the example from shamanism. Shamanism is not a religion, but it is the praying to the heaven. In order to claim the praying to the heaven, it is important the great ability to enter the realm of spirit, but It is useless to learn ceremony” (Г.Аюурзана. Бөөгийн домог, 2010, УБ.,135-р тал)

The author tries to  provide a comprehensive explanation of the root of the issue that an ancient religion of shamanism and Buddhism that closely intertwined each others, and not easy find its distinction between them, in dialogue with Hagdai shaman.

…The Buddha did not preach any mantra for healing, he only taught us to keep our minds pure. You don’t have to be religious to keep your mind free of greed. You can go pure without knowing the Buddha. A real shaman is that one when he sees his first spirit, realizes there is no reason to be greedy in this life and enlightened and recognizes the truth emptiness of the world.” (Г.Аюурзана. Бөөгийн домог, 2010, УБ.,136-р тал)

Hagdai shaman’s interesting talk is continuing about a monk with a spirit and also about how Buddhism invokes the spirit as shamanism does.

Here, the author enriches the shaman’s discourse with explanations of the similarities between Buddhism and shamanism.

“… There are many myths about the miraculous powers of some Buddhist saints. Think about the living body of the bandita Lama Itgeltov in Ivolgiin’ temple. Isn’t it says that a person who has reached the highest level of meditation can escapes death?

It’s called meditation to reach in high spiritual world of the mind. There is still a hobgoblin in the lama’s body that is hint that the soul that has gone to another realm of spirit can be returned to the shaman’s body. The hidden world can only be seen through the eyes of wisdom, not through the human’s eyes. Spirits are the eyes of wisdom.”(Г.Аюурзана. Бөөгийн домог, 2010, УБ., 135-136-р тал)

Hagdai’s talk is mainly about what is an awakening of the mind and how to reach it. Buddhism says that if you will have a right mindfulness /right concentration, you’ll have reached the first stage at which you can be called an “awakened one”.

The above discussions are closely linked to psychiatric and cognitive knowledge, which is considered as a concept of mindfulness of Buddhism.

The context of this novel inspires readers to search for the meaning of faith, the nature of the human being, the mystery beyond the chaos in this life.

Tengis, assistant of the shaman Hagdai, spent six years on the island Tuulait (in Baikal lake of Buriyatia, Russia). He learned the differences between the concepts of shamanism and religion Shariin shajin (Yellow hat named dominant sect of Buddhism founded by Je Tsongkhapa, a philosopher and Tibetan religious leader). Hagdai’s entire life as a shaman was devoted to alleviating the suffering of human beings on earth and awaking the meaning of enlightenment through his esoteric knowledge given to him by power of inspiration through the upper (spirit) realm.

Tengis was so surprised when he saw the dharmapadda (a collection of sayings by Buddha) in the bookshelf at the home of Hagdai and discussed this book. The shaman says: “People who are practicing Buddhists frown when they think of shamanism . But the worshiper of a shaman undervalues the monks. That is the story of a fake shaman and an unlearned monk. In essence, they both mean one thing and that this world is a reflection of the idea in general.”

Here, the writer revealed the shameless truth about fake shamans or uneducated lamas who turned into a survival tool by promising superpowers to help superstitious blind people. It also implies that vital things like money and power are truly temporary.

Ayurzana’s novels are uniquely formulated for the embodiment of wise ideas, expressive speech of characters, and the inner reflections within them.  When in “Shugden”, and “Mysteries of the Sacred Khangai Mountains “deeply reflect the meaning of life and awakening of national consciousness for freedom, then in “Spirit Formula ” you will find a philosophical thinking of universe, and its relevance to the unfolding psycho spiritual direction of humanity.

About Otgonsuren Jargal

Otgonsuren Jargal, is a linguist (PhD National University of Mongolia), researcher of literary study. Has been awarded for PhD mobility of European Mobility Project, Erasmus Mundus-Impakt Program 2015-2016, in ULPGC, Spain.

Before embarking on her doctoral degree, Otgonsuren used to be a journalist/reviewer and experienced editor and translator from Russian or English into Mongolian language. Also she has been active in CSO (civil society organization) as journalist /environmentalist in 2006 -2015.

Otgonsuren‘s research interest address the context of mindfulness and spiritual things in literature. Furthermore, the mindfulness-based practice methods that are rooted in Eastern culture, entering the Western cultural mainstream as approaches in education and its impact of awakening experience in their society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Buddhism, Literature, Otgonsuren Jargal, Religion, Shamanism | Leave a comment

Democratic Convulsions

By Julian Dierkes

Two ongoing convulsions of democracy are having me reflect on Mongolia, elections, and political system challenges: the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan

According to Katie Putz, one of the choices that is coming out of the revolutionary upheavals of the past month in Kyrgyzstan is whether to return to a pre-2010 presidential system or stick with a more parliamentary emphasis.

Kyrgyzstan is of some relevance to Mongolia in that of the post-state socialist or post-Soviet Central Asian countries, it seems closest behind Mongolia on some kind of path to democracy. Mendee has made the Mongolia-Kyrgyzstan comparison most explicitly in his dissertation and has pointed to the continued role of the former ruling party, the Mongolian People’s (Revolutionary) Party, as one of the important aspects of the institutionalization of democracy in Mongolia. Yet, in the current situation, some clear differences are emerging between the two while some questions might be raised above similarities.

I would argue that Mongolian democracy is far more stable than the Kyrgyz version has been. Some of that has to do with path dependence and the fact that there has not been any kind of revolutionary moment in Mongolia after 1990, so with every extra year of a functioning democracy, stability becomes more and more of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I find it interesting, however, that the political systems question has come up again in the Kyrgyz context. This has been a question that has been gaining in prominence in Mongolia. I do not really know whether there was debate around this topic in the 1990s, but it is a question that Pres Battulga seems to like to pose, presumably in part because he sees an opportunity for himself in shifting to a more presidential system.

For the moment, however, last year’s constitutional changes have titled the balance further toward a parliamentary system. While the Prime Minister has been given more power (appointing his cabinet, for example, rather than having them vote on by parliament), the Ikh Khural has gained some investigatory power and it remains to be seen whether stipulations limiting the number of MPs to serve in cabinet are actually an increase in legislative power for the parliament or a weakening.

Mining

Another aspect of discussions about Kyrgyzstan has also bubbled up and leads me to a Mongolia connection.

As much as various populist appeals come up in Mongolian elections, I do see big differences between these and Japarov’s apparent attempts to mobilize revolutionary fervour in Kyrgyzstan by laying claims to mining projects. 

Mining is a much smaller sector in Kyrgyzstan than in Mongolia and Mongolians have, in fact, benefitted from their mining industry in a way that is not so obvious in Kyrgyzstan, partly because of the scale of the projects. While questions around the fairness of the Oyu Tolgoi Investment Agreement and all its amendments can never really be settled, many Mongolians have benefitted from mining activities, whether that be directly, through jobs, or via taxation and public benefits. While Kyrgyz’ claims to mining projects may be a corrupt power grab, in the Mongolian context, despite all the claims about corruption about such large projects as Erdenet, nationalization or anything like it would very much seem like killing the goose that lays golden eggs. That seems less likely to be a winning political strategy in Mongolia than it appears to be in Kyrgyzstan.

United States

Two things have surprised me online in the past several days since the U.S. presidential election: 1. number of voices supporting Trump out of “strategic partnership” gratitude/loyalty, 2. number of disparaging comments about Trump’s claims at election fraud.

Gratitude for the Strategic Partnership

I have been puzzled by the flurry of diplomatic activity between the U.S. and Mongolia that occurred in 2019. Given a completely erratic foreign policy under Trump, the only rhyme I could make of this was that Trump thought that being nice to Mongolia would somehow offend the Chinese regime, something that he would take delight in. In this case, the being nice was the announcement of a “strategic partnership”, something that successive Mongolian presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers had craved. But gratitude and loyalty to Donald Trump because of that? I do not quite see that. It is not that this partnership came out of thin air, it had been a Mongolian foreign policy aim for some time. And it is hard to think that Donald Trump really understood must of what is involved in any kind of partnership. Yet, some Mongolian tweeps were cheering Trump on during and after the election professing some kind of loyalty.

Election Fraud

Trump’s claims at election fraud have seemed ludicrous and very anti-democratic by baselessly undermining trust in elections.

Sound familiar?

I was surprised to see some Mongolian voices mocking these claims by Trump, but not noticing that this is very much a pattern after all Mongolian elections. Unsubstantiated allegations of fraud? Yup, by the dozen and from all directions. No matter whether DP or MPP, all sides are always accusing each other of fraud, but seem reluctant to step forward with any kind of proof. Frequently, when I give presentations about Mongolian democracy, someone in the audience will pipe up with, “But you know the elections are fake!” And somehow these claims do not seem undemocratic when they are made about Mongolian elections, but they do seem so when Trump makes them about the U.S.. 

Posted in Democracy, Elections, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia and ..., Politics, United States | Leave a comment

Panel: New Film “Echoes of Empire”

On October 23, 2020, we came together for a panel discussion of Robert Lieberman’s new film, “Echoes of Empire“.

Participants in the panel discussion:

Here’s the video recording of that discussion:

Or, for audio only, listen here:

In late October 2020, the sneak preview of the film continues online.

Posted in Cinema, History, Media and Press, Social Change | Leave a comment

2020 Local Elections

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan and Julian Dierkes 

The local elections usually do not get much attention from international journalists, Mongolia-watchers, and even in-country diplomats. However, local elections at the capital city/aimag and district/soum level have several important implications for the country’s politics: (1) elected representatives basically run the local government, (2) parties in power of the local councils (i.e., citizens’ representative khural) shape local politics ahead of presidential elections, and (3) local posts (elected & appointed) are a training ground for young and new party members.

Going back to old schedule

Back in 2011, when parliament was revising the law on election, most MPs bought the argument to organize the parliamentary and local (aimag/soum; capital city/districts) elections simultaneously in June based on three rationales. One is economic, this would save financial and human resources. Another reason was the low voter turn-out, both for the national and local elections. The other reason was to have local governments in place before August, when all needed to prepare for the winter; otherwise, people wasted so much time and energy on politics. As a result, the parliament decided to conduct both elections simultaneously, but to implement in three phases.

In 2012, only the election for the 45-member Citizens’ Representative Khural of the capital city was conducted along the parliamentary election. Then, in 2016, elections of Citizens’ Representative Khural of the capital city and 21 provinces were organized together with the parliamentary election in June while conducting elections for the capital city districts and soums in October. This type of concurrent elections has prevented unsuccessful parliamentary candidates from running in local elections. Nonetheless, starting from 2020, all decided to revive the old electoral schedule: the parliamentary elections in June and the local one in October.

2020 Local Elections

The local election was organized on October 15. Avoiding entanglement in the most complicated elections, the General Election Commission has kept its distance only by providing technical (e.g., the automated system) and professional expertise, including the guidelines running the election during the pandemics.

17,149 candidates from 9 parties, one coalition as well as independents ran for 8,169 seats at the Citizens’ Representatives Khural at the capital city/aimag and district/soum level. The Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) – the current ruling party, which controls the parliament and government, – won in the capital city and 13 of 21 provinces.

The nearly-collapsed Democratic Party (DP) established an anti-incumbent coalition with the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), a breakaway party from the MPP, and SHINE. The DP-MPRP-SHINE coalition won eight provinces and Sukhbaatar District (one of 9 city districts).  Since most of these new members came from the DP, its leaders quickly distanced themselves from the other two small, populist parties.

The National Labour Party, known as HUN, which campaigned only in the capital city and Darkhan, another large city in the north, won 18 seats (3 in the capital city and 15 in various districts). Unlike the MPRP, which won 5 seats in five different aimags’ khurals, or SHINE, which won one each in two provinces (Darkhan-Uul and Dundgobi), HUN secured 3 seats in the 45-member capital city’s khural.

Observations

In the absence of independent observers (except participating parties’ observers), reluctance from the General Election Commission and other law-enforcement organizations to be involved in messy local politics, it is difficult to categorize the local elections as strictly ‘free and fair’ until all complaints and reports about violations that are backed up by evidence get an independent, professional review.

The two dominant parties had clear advantages in the election. It was difficult to separate the election campaign events from day-to-day activities of cabinet members, parliament members, and, most importantly, of local governments (governors/mayor). The MPP mostly campaigned on the new government’s action plan and some specific proposals for the capital city, for example, to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution as well as to improve the public works. The DP acted like a devastated, populist party by joining into a coalition with two other parties – MPRP, which is under the control of the former president N Enkhbayar, and SHINE, a party of former MP Batzandan. The most important support for the DP seems to have come from President Kh Battulga as he presented massive award ceremonies (esp., mothers’ awards) while touring around the countryside. In contrast, the HUN party focused on key themes for the urban centre such as reducing traffic congestions and explicitly played by the rule.

The MPP secured its majority (34 seats) at the Citizens’ Representatives Khural of the capital city as well as 8 of 9 city districts. This allows the MPP to control the capital city, which is considered the important powerbase economically and politically. Although the DP gained a majority in Sukhbaatar district, it lost two former power bases (Bayangol and Bayanzurkh districts). At the same time, DP’s seats at the Citizens’ Representatives Khural were reduced from 11 to 8. In retrospect, the DP gained control of the capital city for the first time in 2012 (with 26 seats) but it became the minority from 2016 (with 11 seats).

What’s Next

In the next few days, new members of the Citizens’ Representative Council of capital city/aimag and district/soum level will conduct their first sessions to get organized and nominate the mayor for the capital city and governors for 21 aimags. Here, the Prime Minister plays an influential role of endorsing new mayor and governors. In the past, some prime ministers were reluctant to endorse candidates from the opposition party, which complicates local politics and delays day-to-day activities of the provinces and capital city. Now, the DP will be able to nominate 8 governors in provinces, where the DP hold the majority in the khural.

The two major parties – MPP and DP – will begin to strategize for the presidential election in 2021. Under the new constitution, the next president will be elected for a single, six-year term. This raises two interesting questions:

The first is whether the incumbent president will be allowed to run for the presidency. If one looks at most of former socialist cases (esp., in Russia) and even Mongolia’s own precedent case (P Ochirbat in 1993 election), the Constitutional Court could rule in favour of the incumbent.

The other is who will be the presidential candidate from the HUN party since only political parties with the seat(s) in the parliament are allowed to nominate their candidates. HUN has one seat in parliament, but all its known candidates are under 55, which is the threshold age for the presidential candidacy. This was the case for the opposition parties in 1990s. The opposition parties nominated former president P Ochirbat for two presidential elections (1993, 1997) until 2001, when their members passed the constitutional minimum age of 45 years.

Posted in Aimags, Democratic Party, Elections, Governance, Mendee Jargalsaikhan, Mongolian People's Party, Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, National Labor Party, Politics, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | Leave a comment

Interview with B Tsogtbaatar: Public Health and COVID-Response

By Julian Dierkes

Dr. TSOGTBAAYAR Byambaa earned his PhD from the Faculty of Health Sciences of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver in 2014. He received his MSc in Health Administration and International Health Policy from the University of Colorado in 2005. Tsogtbaatar is a family physician by background (HSUM, 2002) and public health professional/researcher by training who has worked for various health institutions at senior level positions such as lecturer at the National Medical University of Mongolia, officer at the GFATM supported HIV/AIDS projects, Director general at the National Center for Public Health as well as the Director general of Department of Public administration and Management of the Mongolian Ministry of Health. He has also worked as Project Coordinator for the CIHR funded Equity-Focused Health Impact Assessment Tools and Methodologies project. He was elected to the Executive Board of International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI) in 2017, representing Asia. Dr. Tsogtbaatar is now Senior Advisor for health at the UNICEF, Mongolia. He has previously written for this blog.

Q: You finished your PhD at Simon Fraser Univ in 2014, completing research about the utility of Health Impact Assessments in the Mongolian mining industry. What’s the current status of HIAs?

Although mining activities (except for coal export) in the economy and foreign direct investment has been declining for the past few years, the mining industry remains an important part of Mongolian economy. As for HIA, it still has not been converted well into practice due to relatively low number of foreign-invested mining operations. According to the 2012 Environmental Impact Assessment Law, HIA is required only for cumulative and strategic impact assessment. This needs to be expanded. Unless HIA is strictly mandated by law, local companies take it as just an unnecessary requirement. I am sure we are nearing another boom in the mining industry. When that happens, there is still unmet need for well-trained HIA practitioners in the country.

Q: Since completing the dissertation, you’ve been working in Mongolian public health before now taking on a role as Senior Health Advisor with UNICEF in Mongolia. What role(s) have you played in the meantime?

In line with my training abroad, my contribution in Mongolia focused on strengthening the public health system and informed decision-making practices. When I served in the role of DG at the Public Health Institute, both generating more evidence and applying that knowledge to diseases prevention practices were my main priorities. Eventually, PHI was transformed into the National Center for Public Health. My time and effort at the Ministry of Health was largely dedicated to improving post graduate training curricula, improving the salaries of health professionals, improving MOH visibility at the international level and the nation’s COVID-19 fight.

Q: A number of observers have commented on Mongolia’s response to the COVID19 pandemic as fairly successful, highlighting the lack of community transmission. Would you agree that the response has been successful overall?

So far so good. Timely public health interventions, including suspension of all classes as early as Jan 24th, swiftly shifting into regular news reporting by MOH, closing international borders exclusively, cancelling lunar new year celebrations, urging the public to wear mask at all times and cleaning hands, have helped to be where we are at today. However, we should always remind each other that we are one careless move away by a citizen or one sub-standard action away by a civil servant. That is what it will take to go from imported-cases-only status to local transmission.

Q: Thinking back to January/February, can you recall the context in which you heard about COVID19 for the first time?

First it came up during a weekly meeting at the ministry of health. Not many people knew about it or seemed to be interested. A couple of weeks later, the people who were supposed to inform the minister did just that. The minister asked for an urgent meeting of the State Emergency Commission and we held the first ever press conference at the MOH. This was on Jan 23rd of 2020.

Q: What does the Mongolian “warning system” for infectious diseases look like in non-pandemic times?

We had a decent warning system that calls for timely action and multisectoral collaboration when there is a public health emergency, coordinated by the deputy prime minister’s Regulation 8. Obviously, there were a number of flaws or gray areas that needed to be sorted out. The Mongolian parliament approved a “temporary” law back in April to mitigate against socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. Experts from all relevant sectors were included in the sub-working group that I was part of.

Q: Were there many alternative reactions in February or was it easy to convince decision-makers of need for the closing of borders/caution with Tsagaan Sar celebrations, etc.

Both, the public and decision-makers had a similar level of information and perception as COVID unfolded, rapidly. The classic public health approach of “expect the worst-case scenario” was in play and the government treated the evolving situation seriously, valuing health experts advice. Strong leadership and timely policy recommendations by the health sector were a key factor.

Q: Some observers have pointed to state socialist hygiene campaigns and relatively regular quarantining for diseases in animals as factors in high compliance with public health measures in Mongolian in the Spring. Important factors?

The so-called socialist hygiene approach is somewhat lost in the context of the current public health concept in the country. Yet, one cannot deny the impact of such roots in compliance with public health interventions. However, many contributing factors could have contributed, for example, previous experience of dealing with frequent seasonal flu epidemyic, hosting a WHO-supported “Pandemic Flu Readiness” workshop in 2019, having a relatively strong surveillance and lab system, the current speed of information sharing at the global level, the relatively small, manageable size of the population, role and pressure of social media and the leadership. Some people even jokingly linked the traditional high solidarity and adaptability of Mongolians during wartime situations.

Q: At UBC there has been some discussion of the Global Health Security Index in light of what we’ve observed with COVID response around the world. Any comments on how the index captures the Mongolian situation? For example, the index points to Mongolia’s strong ability to detect, but greater challenges to respond. Has this been a factor in COVID-response?

Although, I would not call the GHSI a flawless tool, this is the first comprehensive assessment of global health security capabilities in 195 countries. In the 2019 ranking, Mongolia was ranked relatively high at 46 out of 195 countries in the “more prepared” category. We were highly valued for detection capacity (20th) whereas response capacity was somewhere in the middle (90th) of the crowd. I would say, in reflecting on this ranking, numbers speak for themselves. As of Oct 9th of 2020, there are 315 registered cases (all imported), no fatality and no community transmission in Mongolia. We were ranked at 3rd among all LMICs.

Q: We tend to think that the policy response in Canada has been very strong, in particular in BC where there has been an emphasis on appealing to people’s solidarity rather than draconian measures. Have you/have Mongolian policy-makers been watching other jurisdictions at all?

Solely to speak to our own case, we have looked at WHO’s international health regulation and other countries’ experiences regarding the limiting international travel. For instance, the travel advisory system with 4 levels by USA was studied. In general, more emphasis was given to studying previous historic pandemic events and lessons learnt.

Q: Even for those of us in higher education administration, it was a spring of near-constant crisis management. I can only imagine that this was even more the case for decision-makers like yourself in public health. What have we learnt from this, so far?

Yes, we must admit that NO ONE was and still is ready for an event of such big magnitude. At times there were feelings of “wearing out” by working long hours repeatedly. So personal time management seemed to be crucial in the absence of a system that protects overall performance and wellbeing of civil servants. There should be contingency plans. Although we started talking about leading the “new normalcy” in our lives, we still do not know what that really means. I guess countries have bought some time for themselves to cope with such situations at different expenses. At least, now we know that we do not know many things and how commanding public health is.

Posted in Health, Public Service, Tsogtbaatar Byambaa | Leave a comment