August 22, 2017

BLACK AND WHITE CHOICES

The polls for Mongolia’s 5th presidential elections took place on 26 June 2017. Starting from 10 o’clock in the evening, the General Election Commission started showing on a big screen the number of votes each of the three candidates received in provinces and city districts. The numbers on the screen did not change in the time period between 2 and 7 o’clock in the morning. When Bayan-Ulgii’s results came in the early hours, final outcomes of the election were made clear. The total turnout was 68.27 percent (1,357,888 people), which was a 3-percent increase from the previous presidential election.

The number of ‘black choices’, where people voted for one preferred candidate by filling the circle that corresponded to the candidate’s name, showed that Democratic Party (DP) candidate Kh.Battulga received 517,478 votes, which translated into 38.1 percent of all votes, while Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) candidate M.Enkhbold managed 411,748 votes (30.3 percent) and Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party’s Ganbaatar got 409,899 votes (30,1 percent). A total of 18,000 people (1.3 percent of the overall turnout) made a ‘white choice’ and submitted a blank paper, without voting for any of the three candidates.

Given none of the candidates secured more than 50 percent of votes, we are going to have a run-off election on Friday 7 July.

Signalling the end of MPP/DP 

The outcome of this election is a reflection of two prevailing political trends materialised in Mongolia’s society today. Without factoring in the role each candidate’s political career, persona, and education played in people’s choices, the bigger picture shows that Mongolians do not want to centralize all authorities of the three branches of governance under one political party. Although the presidency is often seen as a power of symbolic nature, people now fully understand that the president has the most influence on the judicial branch. This is part of the reason why the DP candidate received 100,000 more votes than the MPP candidate did.

Secondly, the results show that people have lost their faith in MPP and DP who have been taking turns in governing Mongolia for the last 25 years. It can be seen from the fact that S.Ganbaatar, who joined the political party he is representing just before the election, received nearly as many votes as the leader of the ruling political party did. People have grown impatient after waiting years for these two major political parties to reform from within. Mongolian society is now ready to replace these two political parties with brand new faces and a new political force.

When the results of the election were announced, MPRP organized a press conference and claimed that there was a ‘night time scam’. The MPRP leaders stated that “The election was scammed. Votes for our candidate were blocked on purpose. The General Election Commission did this. The number of votes that were coming in from some provinces did not change at all for seven hours after 2am in the morning. Candidate S.Ganbaatar, who had received 10,000 more votes than the leader of the ruling political party, was suddenly put behind him, trailing by 1,500 votes. Also, the total number of voters was changed overnight and was increased by 39,000 people.”

When the overall results came from Bayan-Ulgii province, M.Enkhbold received 19,300 votes, Kh.Battulga 14,200, and S.Ganbaatar 5.200. It means that M.Enkhbold got ahead of S.Ganbaatar by 14,000 votes, only because of the results from this single province. It is interesting to see that one seventh of the 14,000 votes came from the province center Ulgii, which is home to one third of Bayan-Ulgii’s population.

MPRP sent their complaint to the team of international observers (OSCE). The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has 57 member countries and is overseeing whether Mongolia is organizing its election in a fair manner. Mongolia became a member of this organization in 2012. After these elections, OSCE prepares a report and provides a good assessment of how democracy is working in the country.

White Choice

Many people are not happy about the outcome of this election, and are choosing not to support any of the candidates, which is permitted by the law. If approximately 10 percent of voters (~100,000 people) make a white choice in the run-off election, none of the candidates is likely to receive more than 50 percent of votes. This will lead to organizing the presidential election again, after the political parties replace their candidates.

If that happens, the political parties will have no choice but to accept the public demand expressed by their blank votes, and review why their reputations have fallen so drastically. This might be the last opportunity for these political parties to undergo a reform.

It might be more suitable for Mongolians to organize elections either in April or May, or in October or November. The timing would be even better if it coincides with the beginning of smog in the capital city. We need to change this trend of spending our most pleasant season arguing and politicizing. Let’s remember the ancient Greek tale about an ant who works tirelessly over summer while a grasshopper spends the warm months dancing and singing. When winter comes and the grasshopper comes to the ant asking for shelter, the ant tells the grasshopper to spend the winter singing and dancing as well.

Vicious Circle of Destructive Promises

The MPP and DP have gone back to their old ways, and started a battle of making promises in the last few days. MPP, which has 65 seats in the parliament, has showed their love to the people by passing laws to allow males and females go to retirement at the ages 53 and 48 respectively and to provide stipends to one-parent families with many children.

DP is promising to initiate a law that would make the government to pay off people’s debts owed to commercial banks in the form of salary, herder, pension, and tuition fee loans.

These populist DP and MPP promises are the same as the 2008 election promises to give cash to every citizen. DP promised 1 million MNT to each person, while MPP promised 1.5 million. What happened afterwards was that they established a coalition government, forced state-owned companies to raise business loans from abroad, and distributed the funds in cash to people through the human development fund. All Mongolians have carried the burden and been paying for this mistake for the last six years.

Even Hugo Chávez, who laid the ground for the current unrest and decline in Venezuela, would be envious of this extremely populist promise that is coming from the DP.

In any case, Mongolians will make either a white or a black choice in two days’ time. Regardless of the outcome of this run-off election, Mongolia will keep sinking deeper into corruption and come to the 2020 parliamentary election. Our economy will stay the same – strangled by debt and dependent on mining. If we manage to learn to conduct our elections without scams by 2020, the foundations will be laid to reduce poverty and unemployment.