August 22, 2017

ELECTION SYNDROME AND DEVELOPMENT CHALLENGES

In medical sciences, the word ‘syndrome’ refers to a group of interrelated symptoms that occur together. It comes from a Greek word that means ‘running together’. Because Mongolia is extremely politicized, elections today cause huge divisions among people, and heated debates even take place in households. However, it always ends the same way – people vote and someone wins.

In previous elections, supporters of losing political parties often refused to acknowledge the results and claimed that voting machines made errors. This seemed to have changed after the 2016 parliamentary election. A year ago, when the results of each constituency came in live on TV, people had increased confidence because they could receive live updates starting from the close of polls.

Many people experience post-election psychological distress if the candidate they were rooting for lose the election. It is referred to as ‘post-election syndrome’ by western scholars.

When you reach the peak of a mountain, there is only one way to go – down. And, descending is harder than climbing up, which is why most accidents happen on the way down. When people are back on the starting point, some think there is going to be another mountain to climb. As such, there are people who end up getting stressed because they keep thinking about the time they were climbing up. This is, in some ways,, similar to the post-election syndrome.

Our history since the democratic revolution shows elections have heavy impact on people’s lives. The winning political party sees many of its constituents assume titles, find jobs and get wealthy, while a lot of people from the losing party end up getting fired. When political support disappears, those individuals feel that they do not have any value or identity. Mongolians have a phrase ‘kicking a can (on the street)’ to describe lack of purpose or responsibilities.

Mongolia’s Development Challenges

Professor D.Badarch has selected one of many theories that explain human progress and elaborated in greater detail in his book ‘Systems Thinking’. The systems thinking theory divides society into five dimensions: wealth (economy), knowledge (science), power (politics), tradition (ethics and values), and culture (beauty). It is viewed that stronger synergies between these five dimensions yield greater benefit, whereas weaker linkages would result in problems and challenges.

If a wealth or economy-related problem is not overcome, it causes an even bigger problem. Lack of wealth entails poverty in society, and unequal distribution of wealth increases the gap between the rich and poor. When there is an uncertainty over the sustainability of the value of wealth, everyone is doomed to poverty. This leads to the bigger problem, which is estrangement.

In a perfect society, everyone has a purpose and becomes united voluntarily. Quitting the system would be the strongest demonstration of protest.

If we focus on the wealth dimension only, Mongolia’s challenge in its economic development is unequal distribution of wealth. A World Bank study says that one fifth of global population is living in poverty, unable to find food for the day. Half of the total population are barely managing to meet their everyday needs. The majority of wealth is owned by a small number of people, and inequality is growing larger in society.

Mongolian banks today are offering people loans with an interest rate of 20 percent, which means there is a small space for small businesses that carry large risks. Non-bank financial institutions are offering 25-30 percent interest rates, while pawnbroker businesses who offer even higher rates are still going strong.

The high interest rates are linked to our inability to develop the capital market as well as our high savings interest rates. Also, the number of state-owned companies is growing, and almost all of them run deficits and receive soft loans from the government, which makes it more difficult to support competition in the economy. Our economic growth is also stifled by restrictions and controls the government puts on prices of electric power, fuel, public transportation, and health and education services.

Despaired and tired, people are looking to the government as the only solution to economic decline. Hence, people have been attaching great importance to elections, but the turnout has consistently decreased over the last several years. The 1993 presidential election saw a turnout of 93 percent, which decreased to 63 percent in 2013. Today, there seems to be more indifference from people who do not care whether they vote. In five days, we will see what the turnout is going to be this year. The slump in election turnouts shows that people might be estranging from society.

According to the systems theory, estrangement is caused by feelings of powerlessness, knowledge of one’s involvement being not required, avoiding politics, discouragement coming from the lack of skills to be accountable, decreased interest in what is new, and a sense of meaninglessness in life. Although these symptoms do not occur in everyone who is not voting, certain groups are directly or indirectly exposed.

In any case, this is how our current development challenges are seen through economic lenses. Let’s hope that scholars would see the challenges through lenses of knowledge, tradition, and culture, and have informed discussions.