Brand-new opposition concerned about the business and political environment
In December 2020, I spoke to Munkhdul Badral Bontoi (known as Mogi), who is a representative on the Sukhbaatar district council in UB for the National Labour Party (NLP or HUN).
I caught up with him again to talk about the recent presidential election, which former prime minister Khurelsukh has won by the largest margin in the 31-year history of democratic Mongolia. The NLP's own candidate Enkhbat came second with roughly 20 percent of the vote, well ahead of the incumbent Democratic Party – which just scraped past blank ballots into third. Mogi campaigned for Enkhbat.
I ask Mogi why he thinks Khurelsukh and the MPP secured such a dominant victory, where the DP goes from here, and what democracy now looks like in Mongolia.
(Note: the answers below are Mogi’s and do not reflect the views of Mongolia Weekly).
What does the election mean for the business environment and investment climate in Mongolia?
"The business environment is becoming less free. You can only get business done by being close to the ruling party," Mogi says. "There have been glimmers of hope for foreign investment, but I don't believe things will improve because the MPP has proven that it can't be stable with a supermajority.
"Let's see what happens after the 100-day honeymoon period of the new President. But I don’t see [political] stability holding for a long time. We'll see, but we've had three deputy prime ministers and three health ministers since early 2020. I don't think this indicates strong governance stability at all."
Mogi suspects the MPP’s internal divisions are deep-seated and might arise in the coming months, leading to further bouts of political instability. If so, this doesn’t bode well for the kind of climate favored by investors and businesses.
Was the result what you expected?
"We all expected Khurelsukh to get the most votes, but I was hoping for a run-off election," Mogi says. "If that happened, I'd hoped for DP supporters to rally behind the NLP candidate – which was something that some DP people were indicating would happen. But I was personally surprised by the scale of Khurelsukh's victory."
"Covid diminished voter turnout, which was the worst in our presidential election history," Mogi added. "People and companies were concerned about voting for or publicly endorsing our candidate fearing retribution from the ruling party."
(The turnout was historically low at 59.2 percent. You can read more about election integrity through an independent election report by the OSCE here.)
What impact did President Battulga's absence have on the DP?
Mogi thinks that if President Battulga had entered the race from the Democratic Party (DP) the election outcome may have been different. He believes Battulga could have bumped up voter turnout and split votes away from the favorite, Khurelsukh, leading to a run-off.
"The DP did not rally behind Erdene,” Mogi says. “He had very little support in the countryside – most of the provincial DP committees said they wouldn't support him.”
The Constitutional Court enforced a presidential one-term limit, ruling the widely popular Battulga out of the race - which was decided on an appeal lodged by the NLP party early this year.
“Battulga himself introduced the presidential one-term early than the original draft during the constitutional reform debate and it became the law this year," says Mogi.
And where does the DP go from here?
"I'm sure they have a lot of soul searching to do," Mogi answers. "The DP seems to be divided into many different factions. I don't know what the future holds for the DP. They may come back together stronger or split up.”
However, Mogi sees the value of a stronger and competent opposition in the parliament; the DP has the second highest number of MPs (11 + Altankhuyag and Ganbaatar) while the NLP controls only one seat out of 76.
What does the election mean for Mongolian democracy?
"The state of democracy is at its lowest point in 31 years. The ruling party has found a way to rule as a one-party state," Mogi says. "The big faction within the MPP wants to emulate Singapore's PAP Party – 'free' elections and a 'multi-party system', but in fact a one-party state.”
"But Mongolia’s MPP and Singapore’s PAP are different in many ways,” Mogi adds. He believes internal divisions in the MPP will prevent the party from establishing a long-term grip on power.
"I'm happy Enkhbat got one-fifth of voter support at this election,” he says. “That signals we are a force to reckon with and we can gain more votes in 2024. People see in us hope that there's a brighter future for Mongolia."
Mogi doesn’t think the NLP's strategy has changed since last year. Their vision remains the same - to be a ‘sound opposition’ helping the country maintain democratic guardrails.
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