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Mongolia: Ruling Ex-Communists Show Major Losses In Parliamentary Vote

  • Jeremy Bransten

Mongolia's ruling former communists suffered big losses in 27 June parliamentary elections, once again proving the health of the country's new democracy. In a region better known for authoritarian regimes and rigged elections, Mongolia stands out as a unique case. It is a country with a young but vigorous political culture where voters regularly throw out the ruling party and replace it with the opposition in the ultimate exercise of democracy.

Prague, 29 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Mongolia's parliamentary elections on 27 June confirmed the country's status as perhaps the most developed democracy in Inner Asia.

Unlike the countries of Central Asia -- to say nothing of China -- Mongolia's elections since the fall of communism have proved to be genuine contests with genuinely unpredictable results.

This time was no different. Before the poll, the ruling former communists -- known as the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) -- had an almost absolute grip on power, with 72 of the 76 seats in parliament.

Now it appears they have been left with 36 seats, with the opposition Democratic Party and its coalition partners emerging victorious from the election, with 40 seats.

The results are not yet final and officials of the MPRP have demanded a recount in some districts. But regardless of the outcome, it is clear the former communists have suffered a major setback, despite the advantage of incumbency and support from state media.

Indra Borkhondoin, deputy editor of the "Mongol Messenger" newspaper, spoke to RFE/RL about the reason for the MPRP's loss in a telephone interview from the capital Ulan Bator. She said voters' biggest concern was the economy, and the Democrats managed to convince voters that the former communists had failed in their policies.
Voter turnout was over 75 percent -- a remarkable achievement considering the fact that many Mongolians live in remote settlements far from polling stations and had to travel by horse, camel, or four-wheel drive to cast their ballots.


"The Democrats, the Democratic Coalition, say that people were tired of the ruling party and that during their rule the standard of living did not improve -- on the contrary, the number of poor people increased, some economic reforms were halted and Mongolia's economic rate of economic growth slowed," Borkhondoin said.

The Democrats -- when they were previously in power four years ago -- pursued free-market policies. But ironically, it was their generous social-welfare promises during this campaign that appear to have won over many voters.

"They [promised] every family with children 10,000 tugriks a month [per child] -- which is $7 to $8 -- until the age of 18. Since many Mongolian families, especially in the provinces, have five or more children, the chance to receive real cash seemed more attractive and interesting than the MPRP's program."

Regardless of whether the Democrats will be able to deliver on their promise, what is perhaps most remarkable is how well the electoral process worked.

Voter turnout was over 75 percent -- a remarkable achievement considering the fact that many Mongolians live in remote settlements far from polling stations and had to travel by horse, camel, or four-wheel drive to cast their ballots. Despite a near monopoly on the media, the ruling party was not able to hold onto power as voters made up their own minds.

Borkhondoin said she believes the Mongolian people have a contrarian streak and the heavy-handed government campaign hurt the MPRP's chances.

"Mongolian voters were too pressured by this propaganda, this campaign," Borkhondoin said. "To put it in everyday language, they got fed up. The [ruling party] overdid it."

Experts say Mongolia's foreign policy, which seeks to maintain a balance between Russia and China -- while welcoming foreign investment -- is not expected to change following the elections.
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