August 22, 2017

THE LAST PRESIDENT

Mongolia chose its fifth president just before Naadam. Democratic Party candidate Battulga Khaltmaa secured his win in the run-off elections by receiving votes from less than one third of all eligible voters. The new president is a former world champion of sambo, a painter, and a billionaire, who was elected as member of parliament three times and worked as a minister twice.

At his inauguration, the new president promised to uphold the rule of law, fight against trading government posts, and abolish the corrupt system where the few become wealthier and the people get poorer.

Trampling on the rule of law

The rule of law is the very foundation of the democracy and free market economy Mongolia is building. It starts with the right to private property and the freedom to benefit from the value you have created. The law not only ensures security of people and protects their property but also requires people to meet their obligations, brings stability to society, safeguards people’s faith, and directs appropriate response to political and social stress.

However, this presidential election clearly showed that Mongolian political parties have been stamping on the rule of law and making a joke out of the people, despite their obligation to comply with and strengthen the rule of law.

Having led the government either on their own or in coalition with each other in the past years, the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) and the Democratic Party (DP) have once again broken the election law when they tried to win people’s votes with money during the presidential election.

The war of promises was started by the ruling party MPP when they passed laws to allow single-headed households to receive stipends, and bring down the retirement age. As a response, the DP declared it would make the government pay off the debts people owed to commercial banks. Although people did not really believe this promise, it still created a lot of expectations. The MPP government reacted by making a decision to distribute the 49 percent of Erdenet shares to the people. A day before the election they followed it up by distributing 161.5 billion MNT as stipend to children, which violated the terms with the International Monetary Fund and was carried out without making budget amendments.

During the election, both parties were disclosing information about each other and revealed evidence on how they were spending tens of billions of tugrugs to buy people’s votes. It was interesting to see the DP put so much emphasis on how the MPP used law enforcement when they spent the money illegally.

Although a lot of documents, footages, and records were disclosed, our judicial system, which is supposed to be the guardian of the law, kept silent throughout the campaign.

Ascertaining the parliamentary system

This election was like a cold shower for both the MPP and DP. Having internal struggles, the MPP has started attempting to change its leadership. On the other hand, the DP is having internal coalitions who are silently fighting with each other over the positions that are appointed by the president. Most likely, the first round will be changes to the leadership of the Independent Authority against Corruption and the General Intelligence Agency, which is likely to be followed by the replacement of dozens of people who were given positions in state-owned companies. Moreover, many judges will be replaced and a lot of changes are expected in Mongolian diplomatic units abroad. Hundreds of members of the Mongolian Democratic Union, including the head of the union, are eagerly waiting for these changes to happen. The new president will get his broom out and sweep clean all the government positions that he can influence.

However, this sweep is nothing compared to the next big move from the MPP. Today the MPP has a historic opportunity to make amendments to the constitution without receiving permission from anyone, given they have 85 percent of parliament seats. A decision was made last spring to hold a public referendum within 2017 to make amendments to the constitution. The Mongolian presidency is more of a symbolic role, and the MPP has already lost it to the DP. The MPP must keepin mind it has been several years since ideas emerged to replace presidency with a second legislative house. It is highly likely that the 700,000 people who did not vote in the election, together with the 100,000 people who submitted blank ballots, would welcome a constitution amendment of this nature. The amendments to the constitution are already included as an agenda item for the autumn session of the parliament.

The MPP and DP have come across their last chance to reform, develop their internal democracy, reveal their political party financing, and understand they cannot catch up with the requirements of Mongolian social development today without getting rid of their mafia management and processes.

Lessons from the election

If you look at the bigger picture of this presidential election, its process, outcome, and influence, Mongolian democracy has had several lessons. First of all, people have understood that they can make a ‘white choice’ to express they do not support anyone. There were 99,000 blank ballots, which equaled to 8.23 percent of all votes.

Also, we were able to clearly see what is blocking us from holding a democratic election properly and why those obstacles need to be removed. For example, it was clear true leaders do not emerge when political parties do not have internal competition and adopt a fair process to select their candidate.

The run-off election was held because none of the candidates managed to receive enough votes in the first election. Holding another election cost 7.2 billion MNT, which could have funded the construction of 15 kindergartens with 50 beds. It was a big expenditure for a weak economy as ours.

Also, having understood what influences are imposed when candidates or party leaders own a TV channel (C1, TV9), people clearly felt the need for independent press. Instead of organizing a debate that discusses about issues, the Mongolian National Broadcaster asked candidates prepared questions, to which they received prepared answers. It was not a debate, but an interview.

The people, including ordinary members of both the MPP and DP, are waiting for the election campaign financing to be disclosed and validated, after which the court should decide if there are any measures to be taken.

Mongolia needs to set clear boundaries on the power of presidency and strengthen its parliamentary system. If the MPP and DP ordinary members cannot reform and revive their political parties as political leaders, a third party will inevitably fill the huge gap that is seen in our political spectrum today.

In any case, the last president who has more power and special authorities has begun his work.