by Senior Reporter Anand Tumurtogoo | Ulaanbaatar
The ruling party retained a majority in local assemblies last week, showing the electorate's preference for the status quo while young voters don't bother to go to the polls.
The opposition parties had a poor showing while the youngest party NLP (aka HUN) gained more votes than the more established Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP).
Political experts in Mongolia say that local elections have more influence over citizens than the parliamentary race, as the municipal electorate decides how funding should be spent.
The consequences of corruption are also more prevalent in the urban electorate; for example, green areas that were intended for children's parks have been transformed into high-rise towers with little room for pedestrians.
The incumbent party, the Mongolian People's Party (MPP), has been in charge of local municipalities in the capital city for over 24 years, and the rival party, Democratic Party, has held power in the local government for just six years.
This was the rallying cry of many of the challenging groups in Mongolia: the MPP has been controlling the cities and the regional government for a long time, yet little progressive reform has been made to enhance the life of its people.
However, voters clearly had a different outlook last week and wanted to maintain the status quo.
"It's easier to have a set of people who can collaborate with the government," a voter, who supported the MPP, said to Mongolia Weekly. "Things can be accomplished much faster if you have people who operate hand in hand.”
As a result, the people of Ulaanbaatar and other parts of Mongolia have elected the incumbent party to govern again for another four years and placed the Democratic Party in second.
The biggest upset came from a rising third party, HUN party (Labor National Party), with a five-year background in Mongolia. HUN came in third (although they only took three seats out of 45 in the capital city). The group might have taken more seats in the regional districts if it had candidates to compete in those areas.
Nonetheless, the HUN exceeded expectations by beating out the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP).
The MPRP is led by former President Enkhbayar Nambar, who has been vowing to overthrow his old party, MPP, for years. Enkhbayar’s efforts have seen his party decline amongst voters, suggesting vengeance doesn’t resonate; the MPRP captured just one of the 291 seats in the nine districts of the city.
On the other hand, HUN aimed to convince the people of Mongolia that they are progressive; they say many of their representatives are well-educated professionals who genuinely have the knowledge and values to manage local government, and are able to solve the problems faced by Mongolians every day. The message resonated with some but not all, particularly those who genuinely need structural reform to make their lives better.
The Songinokhairkhan district of Ulaanbaatar, one of the poorest in the capital, also stuck with the MPP: the party won the district with broad margins, capturing 42 seats out of 43.
This year’s referendum was criticised for lacking a benchmark for voter participation. All the ballots were considered valid without a threshold - in other words, a district could have a one per cent turnout and the votes would be considered legitimate to elect a candidate for office.
Enkhtsetseg Dagva, an election and governance expert, wrote in a Twitter post: "There is no point in condemning low turnout without educating the electorate at all. Everyone should pay close attention to the local election law and see how the regulations aimed at ensuring the rights of citizens are affected... when there was just one electoral law, there were fewer calamities.
“The lower the turnout, the worse the democratic nature of the election,” she added.
Less than 50 per cent of Mongolians voted in the local elections, and the youth vote (ages 18-25) was as low as 20 per cent.
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