An Orchestrated Presidential Election in Mongolia

In the midst of the deadly pandemic, Mongolia has held its eighth presidential election on June 9.

The ruling Mongolian People’s Party (MPP)’s candidate Khurelsukh Ukhnaa had a landslide victory. The election has various, major implications for Mongolia’s democracy.
An orchestrated election

According to the Mongolian constitution, only parties that already have seats in parliament are eligible to participate in the presidential election in Mongolia. After the 2020 legislative elections, four parties had seats in the parliament. However, this year’s presidential election was only contested by three of these parties and was an unequal election for the opposition parties in various ways. The following three main events can show why this presidential election was orchestrated by the ruling party.

First, Khurelsukh Ukhnaa resigned as Prime Minister in January 2021 to run for the president of the MPP. One of the main changes introduced in the constitutional amendment of 2019 was a single-term presidency. Initially, the article was planned to be implemented after 2025. However, this date was changed to 2020 before the amendment was passed by parliament. Just two months before the election, the constitutional court made a decision that sitting and former presidents could not run again for this election due to the article on the amendment. In fact, however, Khurelsukh Ukhnaa’s biggest competitorwas the sitting president Battulga Khaltmaa, who had a high rating from the general public as can be seen from some polls.

Second, the MPP had successfully struck a deal with the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP). They announced to merge with the MPP just before the election. It was an important move for the MPP candidate because the MPP candidate lost in the previous presidential election due to the MPRP candidate’s vote sharing. It is clear now that the MPP offered high-ranking civil service positions to the leaders of MPRP if victory was secured.

Third, the newly established National Labor Party (NLP) nominated Mongolian internet pioneer Enkhbat Dangaasuren for the election, who is little known among the voters of rural areas. Moreover, the NLP needed to introduce their candidate within 10 days of the campaign period, which was an impossible task. Nevertheless, Dangaasuren’s reputation increased dramatically during the short period of campaigning.

Unfortunately, he tested positive for Covid-19 during the campaign and had to cancel important campaign events. Many Mongolians are suspicious of the fact he tested positive just two days before the presidential debate while he had no symptoms of Covid-19. Because of this event, the presidential debate had not been organised for the first time since 1993 even though many people asked for a debate via online.

The MPP candidate went on to win the presidential election with the highest margin ever (68% of the total votes). Bagabandi Natsag won the presidential election with over 60% of the votes in 1996. However, in 2021, voter turnout was the lowest (59%) in the history of Mongolia’s presidential elections. Khurelsukh Ukhnaa won all 21 provinces and 9 districts in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Enkhbat Dangaasuren had won only among the people who participated from foreign countries. As a result of the factors described above, the Economist magazine described the presidential election as a “one-horse race”.
Clientelism at its peak

After the election, the Democratic Party candidate Erdene Sodnomzundui and NLP candidate Enkhbat Dangaasuren stated that they competed against the state apparatus and a large sum of money. These two opposing candidates did not officially congratulate Khurelsukh Ukhnaa. Enkhbat Dangaasure tweeted that this election set new records for corruption.

I argue this presidential election epitomised Mongolia’s clientelist political system. The MPP has been extremely successful in past elections, especially the last few elections. This is because as a successor of the communist party, it has the biggest structure along with state administrative units in Mongolia, which works like a spider’s web.

As a ruling party, both opposition candidates said the MPP has been using state bureaucracy for their election campaigns, especially at the local level such as the heads of Khoroo and Bag. For example, an independent columnist and political commentator Jargal Defacto wrote that the MPP was handing out their hundredth anniversary medal (their anniversary happened just before the election) with 100,000 tugriks (US$35) to thousands of voters.

However, it is still unknown how much money they spent during the election. Jargal Defacto has been arguing that political party financing has been an Achilles’ heel of Mongolian democracy since 1992. It is getting more difficult to compete against the ruling party, and they are getting higher percentages of votes in the elections.
A new era of illiberal democracy?

Even though previous president Battulga Khaltmaa got elected from the DP, he had a close relationship with current president, Khurelsukh Ukhnaa. Battulga used this relationship to implement his political agenda through the National Security Council (NSC), which has three members - the president, prime minister and speaker of the parliament. I wrote a piece on why that ruined the checks and balances enshrined in our constitution.

There was a concern that Khurelsukh might use this council more often than the previous president to control the parliament and cabinet. This concern was proved to be true too quickly because Khurelsukh Ukhnaa announced that he will make decisions on four issues in the NSC even before his presidential pledge. MP Enkhbayar Battumur tweeted about this news that these four issues should be decided in the parliament. There is a higher chance that he might control the parliament and prime minister with his cabinet.

According to the 1992 constitution, Mongolia has a semi-presidential system like France. However, there has been a consensus among politicians and scholars that this semi-presidential system has become problematic for many reasons. That is why two big amendments in 2000 and 2019 were aiming towards a ‘pure’ parliamentary system.

Scholars like Munkhsaikhan Odonkhuu who participated actively in the constitutional amendment were hoping that the new amendment would revert thepresident’s role to its initial position, as a symbolic figure in the parliamentary system. However, this hope might fade away with few decisions and actions of the new president. One of the most important elements of liberal democracy is the checks and balances on power. Without this constitutional limit, democracy will be a tyranny of the majority. Thus, Khurelsukh’s six-year term might be a new era of illiberal democracy in Mongolia.
What should be done?

Elections will lose meaning if the one-horse race continues in the future. We have to keep in mind that voter turnout has been decreasing every election and this election was the lowest. That’s why we need a strong opposition party and other relevant parties. In our parliamentary elections, we have been using block voting system or FPTP method, which had been an advantageous electoral system for the ruling party.

Mongolia needs to change its current electoral system and state funding of political parties in order to increase the number of relevant parties (Altankhuyag, 2020). As mentioned before, only parliamentary parties are allowed to participate in the presidential elections, which is also problematic. OSCE election observers stated that even parties without seats in parliament should be allowed to nominate their candidates in the presidential elections in Mongolia.

To ensure its democracy survives, we need urgent political reform in Mongolia.

Л.Оюун-Эрдэнийн ЗГ яагаад огцрох ёстой вэ

Хүн төрөлхтний түүхэнд хамгийн өргөн хүрээг хамарсан цар тахлыг бид туулаад явж байна. Өмнө нь дэлхийн бүх орнуудад яг ийм хэмжээний том асуудал зэрэг тулгарч байсангүй. Тийм ч учраас дэлхийн улс орнуудын засаглалын чадавхи жинхэнэ утгаараа харьцуулагдаж байна. Жишээ нь өмнө нь зарим хүмүүс авторитари дэглэмтэй орнууд ардчилсан орнуудаас илүү үр дүнтэй засагладаг гэж ярьдаг байсан. Харин цар тахлын үеийн менежментийг харахад засаглалын чадавхи нь улс төрийн дэглэмтэй шууд бас холбогдохгүй байгаа нь харагдаж байна. Жишээлбэл цар тахлын менежмент ардчилсан Өмнөд Солонгост, Шинэ Зеландад, авторитари Хятадад ч үр дүнтэй байна. Ер нь цар тахалтай тэмцэж буй дэлхийн улс орнуудын туршлага гурван чухал сургамж хэлээд байх шиг. Нэгт нэгдсэн төр засагтай байна гэдэг нь өөрөө ямар чухал болох нь. Хоёрт шийдвэр гаргагчдаас гадна төрийн албаны чадавхи ямар чухал болох нь. Гуравт төрт итгэх иргэдийн итгэл шийдвэрлэх нөлөөтэй гэдэг нь.

Эндээс би төрд итгэх итгэл яагаад чухал вэ гэдгийг онцолмоор байгаа юм. Учир нь төр засагт итгэх итгэл өндөр байвал иргэд төрөөс гаргасан цар тахалтай холбоотой шийдвэрүүдийг сайн дагаж мөрдөнө. Ер нь иргэд төрдөө итгэлгүй болох нь урт хугацаандаа ч их хохирол дагуулдаг. Төрөөс гаргасан бодлого, шийдвэрийг иргэд дагахгүй, мөрдөхгүй болно гэсэн үг. Харамсалтай манай төр засаг сүүлийн нэг жилийн хугацаанд иргэдийнхээ итгэлийг идээд дууслаа. Үүнийг нэг тод жишээ нь Такесан рестораны эздийн үйлдэл. Тэд зүгээр л төрийн шийдвэрийг дагахгүй гэдгээ олон түмний өмнө зарласныг санаж байгаа байх. 

Буруу бүхэн бусдын буруу (Quiza-ийн дуунаас)

Ерөнхий сайд Л.Оюун-Эрдэнэ өнөөдөр суулт хийж буй эмч нарын төлөөлөлтэй уулзсан. Энэ уулзалт бол тэр асуудалд хэрхэн ханддагийг яруу тодоор харуулав. Эмч нарын суултын ард хэдэн улс төрчид "улстөржүүлж" байгаа гэдгийг албан тушаалын дагуу олж мэдсэн гэнэ. (Өмнө нь бас олон үйл явдал дээр ингэж мэдсэн. Жишээлбэл Вакцины асуудалд С.Одонтуяа гишүүн, нөхрийн хамт) бөгөөд хэрэв тэд зогсохгүй бол нэрийг нь зарлаж, хуулийн байгууллагаар шийдвэрлүүлэх гэнэ. Бод доо. Энэ Ерөнхий сайд хүний хэлэх үг, үйлдэл мөн үү? Асуудлыг шийдвэрлэх хүсэлгүй байгаа нь илт. Зүгээр л бурууг бусад руу чихсэн, арьсаа хамгаалсан арчаагүй үйлдлээ л дахин давтлаа.

Төрөөс цар тахлын талаар гаргаж буй шийдвэрүүд маш их алдаатай, шинжлэх ухаанч биш байсан ч дарга нар маань алдаагаа хүлээн зөвшөөрөхгүйгээр үл барам иргэд рүү буруугаа чихиж байв. Тийм ч учраас иргэд өдөр бүр янз бүрийн хэлбэрээр эсэргүүцлээ илэрхийлж байна. Дарга нарын хувьд буруу бүхэн бусдын буруу. Гэтэл ковидийн үед яагаад хэдэн зуун хүмүүст одон медаль тараав, хэдэн зуун хүнийг цуглуулж намын 100 жилийн ой тэмдэглэв, яагаад сонгуулийн сурталчилгааг онлайнаар хийхийн оронд орон нутгаар ковид тараав... 

We need a PM, not PR (жиргээнээс)

Сүүлийн нэг жилийн үйл явдлуудыг харахад цар тахлын үеийн улс төрийн манлайлал илт дутагдаж байна. Эрдэнэбат гуайн жиргээнд бичсэнчлэн "Бидэнд PR бус PM" (Ерөнхий сайд) хэрэгтэй байна. Ер нь хямралын үеийн менежментэд тодорхой нэг манлайлагчтай байх нь маш чухал. Америкийн улс төр судлаач Фарийд Закариагийн  "Цар тахлын дараах 10 сургамж" номондоо Тайван цар тахлыг амжилттай хязгаарласан нэг нууц нь тодорхой нэг хүний манлайлал байсан тухай бичсэн байна лээ. Гэтэл манайд цар тахлын үед Ерөнхий сайдын манлайлал алга. Оронд нь УОК, НОК (бүр сүүлдээ СОК) гэх хоорондоо зөрчилтэй, шинжлэх ухаанч нөхдүүд улам бүр туйлдуулдаад дууслаа. Л.Оюун-Эрдэнэ Ерөнхий сайдаас өөрөө түрүүлж Астра Зенекагийн вакцин тариулснийг эсвэл тооцвол өөр ямар ч манлайлал харагдсангүй. Ерөнхий сайд болсноосоо хойш олон газраар явж  "ажилтай танилцах" гэдэг нэрийдлээр сүрийг үзүүлснээр өөр гавъяа алга.

Цар тахлаас хойшхи жил гарангийн хугацаанд хувь хүмүүс, бизнес ч, төр засаг ч нөөцөө барж буйг ойлгож байна. Гэхдээ ийм хямралын үед нөөцийг зарцуулахдаа чухлаар нь л эрэмбэлэх учиртай (5 дугаар ангийн хүүхэд ч хэлнэ). Гэтэл төр засаг маань наадам хийнэ гэж дэмийрсэн нь олон хүнийг дургүйцлийг хүргэсэн. Энэ нь дахиад л улс төрчид цар тахлын хямралаа ерөөсөө ойлгохгүй байгааг эсвэл бүр улаан цайм хувийн эрх ашгийг урдаа тавьж байна гэдгийг илтгэнэ. 

Л.Оюун-Эрдэнийг ерөнхий сайд болгосон МАН-ын  хувьд маш том алдаа байсан харагдлаа. У.Хүрэлсүх мэдээж хэрэг өөрийн гар доорх хүнээ тавьсныг ойлгож байгаа ч, энэ нь цар тахлын үед хувиа бодсон маш арчаагүй үйлдэл байжээ. Улс төрийн манлайлал магадгүй хамгийн хэрэгтэй үед  манлайлал үзүүлж чадахгүй, шийдвэр гаргаж чадахгүй хүнийг тавьсан нь алдаа гэдгээ хүлээн зөвшөөрөөд яаралтай "солих" хэрэгтэй. (МАН-ийнханд: "Алдаа хийсэн гэдгээ мэдсэн бол тэр даруй засах алхамыг хий." Далай Ламын Мянганы сургааль).

Хамгийн гол нь...

Халх голын тулалдаанд үрэгдсэнээс олон хүний алтан амь үрэгдчихээд байна...

Are Presidential Elections Putting Mongolian Democracy in Peril?

My latest piece with PhD Fernando Casal Bertoa at The Diplomat

Presidential elections will take place in Mongolia for the eighth time since the democratic revolution in 1990 on June 9th. In the weeks leading to these elections political stakes have been higher than ever, Political polarization has been coupled with court rulings, presidential decrees, party splits and also mergers. As explained in this article, all this has put Mongolia’s rather institutionalized party system in an unprecedented state of instability which, if not checked, might lead to the unexpected collapse of democracy in the country. As Mongolians know well, the current form of government was not even a must. 

Historically, Mongolia never had a President until the figure was introduced in the aftermath of the 1990 revolution. Still, Punsalmaagiin Ochirbat, former Chairman of the Presidium of the People’s Great Khural (as the Communist parliament was named) and first Mongolian President was appointed by parliament. It was only two years later that the new Constitution, after long and hard discussions, decided to have the Head of State popularly elected. This way Ochirbat was re- elected President with 60 percent of the votes on June 6th, 1993. We revisit here not only the problems popular presidential elections have posed for Mongolian politics in the past but also the reasons why the current situation is not surprising. 

Ever since the American-based Spanish scholar Juan Linz published his seminal The Perils of Presidentialism (1990), academics have showcased the problems popular presidential elections might entail. In a recent policy paper published by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, another Spanish scholar – although this time British-based – warns about the perils popular presidential elections entail. There he shows that, among other issues, popular presidential elections might lead to party de-institutionalization, party system fragmentation, and polarization.

Read the full article from here 

The Price of Limiting Power

A new post at Verfassungsblog

On 18 April 2021, Mongolia’s political landscape was hit by an unexpected event: President Battulga Khaltmaa issued an official decree in which he suggested to dissolve Mongolia’s 100-year-old ruling party, the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP). What appears to be a political problem at first glance, points to a deeper crisis of Mongolia’s constitutional democracy. Not only the scope of Presidential powers, but also the so called National Security Council (NSC) and Constitutional Court are in urgent need of reform. I argue that this deeper crisis consists of institutional conflicts between the President (who has been elected from the main opposition party) on the one side, and the ruling party and prime minister on the other side.

Back to Political Volatility

Until 1990, Mongolia had been a communist one-party regime under the MPP for 70 years. It was only in 1990 that the transition to democracy came along with a transition to a multi-party system with free and fair elections. Since then, Mongolia has been led by 17 different governments, making it one of the most politically volatile countries in the region. Despite this tumultuous history, the country managed to successfully organize parliamentary elections last June, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The result was a landslide victory for the ruling MPP which retained its super-majority in the country’s unicameral parliament. The MPP chairman and incumbent Prime Minister, Khurelsukh Ukhnaa, was re-elected for a second term. It seemed like Mongolia might experience a rare period of political stability.

Read full article from here

The Constitutional Court and Gridlock in Mongolian Democracy

By Bat-Orgil Altankhuyag and Marissa J. Smith

(A blog post at @ Mongolia Focus)

As covered by Mongolia Focus, the Mongolian government made significant changes to the Constitution in 2019. This was the second time that changes have been made since the Democratic Constitution was adopted in 1992.

Even though there is a consensus among politicians and scholars in Mongolia that the new amendments can lead to positive change in the political system in Mongolia, their ratification is part of an ongoing project of political reform on the part of dominant forces in the Mongolian People’s Party and this has also led to some inevitable institutional conflicts. One of them is the current debate on whether or not the current president is allowed to run again for the upcoming presidential election. Scholars and politicians have different opinions on this issue. The Constitutional Court is set to make a final judgment on it on Friday (April 16, 2021).

Parliament(arianism) vs. President(ialism)

Driven by the Mongolian People’s Party, which holds a supermajority in Parliament, the main point of the new amendments was to move from a semi-presidential system to a parliamentarian system, or at least to substantially check the powers of the president. The new amendments even include the provision that Presidential powers be limited to those in the Constitution (§33.4) (though the Law on the Presidency itself remains to be changed or repealed). The transition from Prime Minister Khurelsukh to Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene and a revamped Cabinet proceeded in late January/early February almost without a hitch in accordance with the new amendments, as President Battulga punctually confirmed of all of the nominees. But more recently the President has fought back against the trimming back of his powers by utilizing his veto powers on legislation passed by the Parliament, making submissions (including in person) to the Constitutional Court, and vetoing and otherwise influencing the nomination of new members of the Constitutional Court.

Even though there is currently a double crisis of health and economy due to the Covid pandemic in Mongolia, it seems like politicians have been quite focused on the question of whether Battulga can run for reelection or not. One of the main scholars who actively participated in the development of the recent Constitutional amendments was Professor Munkhsaikhan Odonkhuu from the National University of Mongolia, who writes that “with the establishment of a single term presidency, whether current and former presidents can run again is not clear.” According to the recent Constitutional amendment, a citizen who has reached 50 years old can be a president only once. In the original draft of the amendment, this clause would have been implemented after 2025. However, the Parliament made a change on this date and made it to 25 May 2020. Interestingly, the General Secretariat of President, Enkhbold Zandaakhuu (a long time Democratic Party power in his own right, Speaker of the Parliament from 2012 to 2016 and head of the DP from 2014 to 2016) suggested this change (see also this source).
Influencing the Constitutional Court: Nominations, Vetoed Nominations, Submissions, Submissions in Person

Many people have been questioning whether or not the Constitutional Court can make professional and independent decisions, and the Court has been making various questionable decisions for the last 30 years of democracy in Mongolia. For example, in 2016 the Constitutional Court decided that the mixed electoral system that was used in the 2012 parliamentary election is unconstitutional (the decision may be read at It is extremely hard to justify this decision unless the court made this decision for political purposes, i.e. to benefit the current majority in Parliament, i.e. the Mongolian People’s Party. (See the recent presentation by Professor Gerelt-Od Erdenebileg, here starting at the 1 hour, 34 minute mark.)

According to Article 65 of the Constitution (in place since 1992 and not part of either the amendments of 1999-2000): The Mongolian Constitutional Court has nine members. To keep balance in the Court reflecting distribution of power among the different branches of government, three members are nominated by the Parliament, three members are nominated by the President, three members are nominated by the Supreme Court, and then the Great Khural (Parliament) appoints them for six years.

The six-year terms of the current two members nominated by the Supreme Court (Deed Shuukh, not to be confused with the Tsets, the Constitutional Court) have already expired. Because of the expiration of the terms of two justices, the Parliament appointed J. Erdenebulgan and dismissed Sh. Tsogtoo on March 26, 2021 (it is unclear why they are not being appointed by the Supreme Court, but current matters of judicial independence are numerous and they deserve at least one separate post). The General Secretary of the President’s Office, U. Shijir, stated that this sudden appointment was due to politicians’ action in order to influence the Constitutional Court’s decision. President Battulga vetoed the decision and the Parliament discussed it, and ultimately Sh. Tsogtoo was nominated (rather than Battulga’s requested D. Solongo), and now the Democratic Party MPs have raised complaints about the ethics of another justice, D. Odbayar, the former chairman who sexually assaulted a South Korean flight attendant – two years ago.

The President’s official representative, attorney B. Gunbileg, is arguing that there is no restriction regarding the current president’s right to run for the election. He also stated that the ruling party is trying to influence the decision-making of the Constitutional Court by changing the members. There is some conflicting information in media as to whether the Court has made initial meetings (Baga suudliin khuraldaan or Meeting of Small Chambers) or not because of the third KhUN Party’s sole MP’s petition on the issue. Gunbileg also stated that the Constitutional Court declined the Meeting of Small Chambers and scheduled a Meeting of Medium Chambers in the Court. He argued that it is a clear sign of political influence.

In January 2020, President Battulga was joined by all four former Presidents in submitting to the Constitutional Court questioning the constitutionality of the new clause apparently barring reelection. But more recently, the President himself went to the Constitutional Court’s office to open cases regarding new laws on the judicial sector (which are necessary to fully implement some of the new Constitutional amendments) after Parliament overrode Battulga’s veto of the new Law on Courts. This is an entirely new precedent because a previous president has never visited the Constitutional Court himself (all four presidents have been men) and the Constitutional Court has never taken a whole law draft as a petition. According to the Law on the Constitutional Court, Article 10, submissions by the President must be considered by a session of the Court. A. Byambajargal, Professor of Law at the National University of Mongolia stated that the president is trying to influence the constitutional court’s decision through his actions.

In general, the Mongolian Democratic Constitution of 1992 has been open to various conflicting explanations. The Court that should make the final judgment on the Constitution became a highly politicized organization. We can argue that in its current form and context the Constitutional Court can have the function of gridlock in the Mongolian political system or democracy in general. This gridlock will likely continue unless there are significant changes in the Constitution itself.