The World Today for June 09, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

MONGOLIA

Steppe Politics

Mongolia’s last presidential election in 2017 was extremely close. Incumbent President Khaltmaa Battulga, a former sumo wrestler, won with 50.6 percent of the vote. He did so using a campaign of fear.

“Battulga used a combination of Sinophobia, nationalism, and fearmongering to win votes,” wrote the Washington Post at the time, referring to his campaign tactic of suggesting his opponent was Chinese rather than Mongolian.

Describing Battulga as a wealthy businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bloomberg described the leader as a “Trump of the Steppe” in a headline.

Now observers are concerned that the politics surrounding the next presidential ballot on June 9 could seriously undermine democracy.

Writing in an op-ed in the Diplomat, Mongolian political analyst Bat-Orgil Altankhuyag and University of Nottingham Comparative Politics Professor Fernando Casal Bértoa noted how politicians have been creating new political parties when they think the old ones don’t serve their needs, creating more political factions and, lastly, more polarization as institutionalized parties fragment.

Politics have been contentious under Battulga. While the president is a member of the Democratic Party, the Mongolian People’s Party holds a majority in parliament and elects prime ministers from its ranks. Last year, lawmakers enacted legislation that limits the president to one term in office – a clear move to bring Battulga’s rule to an end.

But Battulga has refused to go quietly.

In January, the prime minister resigned following protests over the government’s treatment of Covid-19 patients. The country’s poor economy and lack of jobs have helped fuel the protests, Reuters reported. But the prime minister at the time, Khurelsukh Ukhnaa, also blamed Battulga for fomenting the demonstrations.

Then, in April, Battulga attempted to dissolve the Mongolian People’s Party, saying it was attempting to seize power undemocratically. A court ruled that he had no power to abolish a political party, however, the Economist noted.

Now Ukhnaa is running for the presidency with the Mongolian People’s Party, Sodnomzunduin Erdene is running on the Democratic Party line and a third-party candidate, Enkhbat Davaasuren of the National Labor Party, is challenging the other two to determine who will run the country.

Davaasuren, a computer engineer, has excited many voters who don’t want either major party ruling the country, Bolor Lkhaajav, a book editor at the Indiana University-based Mongolia Society, told the Diplomat.

Mongolian youth are especially concerned about keeping their democracy intact rather than allowing either parliament or the president to assume too much power, an International Republican Institute poll found.

They understandably want better lives, not bombast and gamesmanship.

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