Mongolia Elections; Reform and Future Challenges

Mongolia modeled its elections since 1951 after the Soviet Union’s system of allowing only one political party to exist in the country—the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), which was the communist party body, and the only party allowed, in country until 1990. Following the Soviet policy of Perestroika and the democratic uprisings in Eastern Europe, Mongolia successfully have political transition, for the first time, it made significant strides towards its electoral reform, by introduced multi-party elections for the 1990 parliamentary election. The country’s multi-party system developed with the first opposition coalition parties, the so-called Democratic Union Parties, forming prior to the elections of 1996 wherein they scored a dramatic victory over the MPRP which broke 75 years of communist party rule.[1]

However, the reforms did not deliver the country into a better situation as Mongoliaexperienced political disability and economic crisis. Corruption at the time was seen as rampant and unemployment skyrocketed to 50%. The dysfunctional political system and political rivalries reached their nadir when a Cabinet Minister was murdered. The effectiveness of the Democratic Coalition was tempered and restrained by its own political inexperience as evidenced by the coalition installing 4 (four) different governments within a four year period under the Motherland Democratic Coalition, which had governed Mongolia from 1996 until the elections in 2000.[2]

The enactment of the 1992 Constitution, which endorsed the new pluralist system viewed at the time as the foundational electoral reform needed in the country, adopted a unicameral parliamentary system and fixed seat allocation at 76 seats elected by a plurality vote in multi-member Constituencies. This first past the post system would put the elected parliament in position to serve 4-year terms. A proposed but eventually rejected amendment of the 1996 Election law would have reduced the number of parliamentary constituencies from 76 to 26. However, the reforms brought forth in 1996 likely did not pay enough attention to the ongoing gap regarding women’s representation within parliament. The highest percentage of women in parliament thorough-outMongolia’s electoral history is still less than 15 percent. The electoral reforms did not address this under representation by adopting any affirmative policies to encourage women in the parliament, a problem which existing in many other emerging democracies inAsia.

Women’s participation in politics still faces many obstacles. Although women in Mongoliaenjoy the right of equality in certain sectors of civil and political life, it remains evident that women are absent from the highest levels of political decision-making at both the national and local levels. Women possess equal voting rights to men, and it is generally accepted that women vote freely without pressure from males – although, 1 in 4 Mongolians assert women should not be making their own choice at the ballot box without the advice of men[3]. Over recent years, women’s groups have made important strides in empowering women and raising awareness about women’s rights. However, women and women’s concerns remain marginalised in society. Women are generally in support of public meetings to discuss their issues and concerns[4]. It is this desire that the project will engage to encourage and increase women’s civil participation and awareness.Mongolia is seeing the growth of a new technologically savvy youth and middle class. In order to provide detailed, relevant and specific information a dialogue must be engaged in.

The report from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) on the last two SGH elections in 2004 and 2008 share similar findings on the issue of unequal competition and an unleveled playing field. The report highlighted the ruling MPRP’s dominant access to media campaigns and political advertising, blanketing the city with posters and billboards. The absence of campaign finance limits on individual candidates or parties resulted in overwhelming control and advantages for wealthy candidates & parties.[5] The report also mentioned the lack of provisions to manage the participation of government officials or the cabinet to be involved in the elections. The 2004 SGH election saw allegations brought by the opposition of vote buying with gifts of money and vodka. The opposition accused the MPRP of planning to commit election fraud, arguing that they had multiple registered many of their supporters while limiting the quantity of the opposition’s election observers. In 2008, similar allegations about the SGH election occurred, but this time the protests escalated into violence after preliminary results showed a clear MPRP victory. DP’s Chairman Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj declared that his party would not accept the election results, and alleged that the elections had been illegally captured.[6]

The above mentioned problem also been spotted by Open Society Forum on its 2008 Elections monitoring 2008 parliamentary elections in Mongolia, where they are closely engaged with the General Election Commission to discover hundreds thousands multiple registration. The Forum also highlight concern on the ballot printing, which is not fully transparent available for monitor, the elections watchdog was not given a chance to observe the watermarking process, a crucial security feature. In additions there is also a rise concern for over ballot paper allocation which is beyond 10 % to many polling stations, some received up to 16 % extra [7]

The 2012 parliamentary elections in Mongoliawill be held under a new election law, with changed rules on voter registration, party campaigning and election observation. This will require work throughout Mongoliato ensure voters are aware of their rights and responsibilities at the voting booth.  In addition, Mongoliawill see a large number of first time voters at this election – Mongolia’s population is extremely young[8]. The National Statistics Office estimates that around 15% of voters in the 2012 elections will be first time voters. [9]

Women for Social Progress (WSP) noted the voting intentions for the last Parliamentary elections were low, with only 61% of voters planning to vote, according to a Sant Maral Foundation survey[10].  Indeed, voter turnout has substantially and lineally declined from 95.6% in 1992 to 76.46% in 2008.[11] Renewal of interest in politics is essential. At the 2008 Presidential Elections the main reason for not voting was a lack of understanding of politics, with not knowing enough about the candidates being another major contributing factor.[12] To ensure that the next elections are fair, and reflect the will of the people, it is necessary to ensure that voters are educated, aware and engaged.

Lack of awareness of elections inMongoliais another contributing factor to decreasing voter turn out. Many Mongolians, even now, are unaware of when the next Parliamentary elections will be held. This basic lack of knowledge in the polity undermines or provides serious obstacles in developing voter consciousness, and ensuring informed choices at the ballot box. This project will combat this lack of awareness in Mongolian society and build civil engagement and participation in preparation for the 2012 elections.

Mongolia’s capital has a population of 1,240,000 and serves as the administrative center of the country. The headquarters of WSP are also situated in Ulaanbaatar. Ulaanbaataris divided into 9 districts, and each district is subdivided into Khoroos, of which there are 121. Darkhan and Erdenet are currently the next two largest cities with populations of 95,000 and 90,000 respectively. The aimags (provinces) of Khentii (66,000) and Dorngov (58,000) are forecasted to see massive population growth due to investment in mining and other industries in these regions. These selected aimags encompass 60% of the entire population ofMongolia.

Concurrently, there is a growing use of the internet as a communication and public education tool. Currently approximately 10% of the population has internet access[13]. At the 2008 Presidential Elections only 1.1% of voters received information about registering and voting through the internet.[14] It is expected that there will be a higher use of the internet among voters in the 2012 election, and this project will utilize this information dissemination and education tool. However, an over focus on the internet as a communication tool will not benefit Mongolian voters.

Mass media – including radio, television and newspapers – are the main forms of information dissemination in Mongolia. 81% of voters prefer to receive their information about elections from television.[15] It is therefore necessary to engage with the polity through the television.  In urban Mongolia citizens prefer to receive their information through media rather than directly from political leaders in face-to-face situations.[16]

Understanding Mongolia Democracy

An IDEA desk study[17] (2005) points out thatMongolia has a vibrant and lively civil society with strong and large non-governmental organisations, particularly among journalists and women. It also suggests that Mongolian citizens express strong support for the democratic transition and the democratic system even during times of economic adversity, while expressing less support for the democratic process itself and mixed support for political institutions. The study has also noted that there are problems with access to and administration of justice, where patterns of corruption have undermined due process, and unreasonable conditions of pre-trial detention and the use of the death penalty in secret limit the notion of a full protection of civil rights. It further states that, “the semi-presidential institutional design has provided the opportunity for power sharing and political accommodation, but elections have been dominated by the success of the MPRP, which has tended to control the parliament and the presidency, while constitutional amendments have undermined horizontal accountability by allowing MPs to serve simultaneously as cabinet members”. It has also emphasized that at the international level;Mongolia has served as a beacon of democracy in a fairly non-democratic part of the world and has shown leadership in the international community of democracies, as well as adopting a ninth Millennium Development Goal specifically on democracy and human rights.

A drastic change of economic development direction from predominantly rural (livestock) economy to exploitation of natural resources through developing large-scale mining, and a focus on attracting international investment triggered major changes in the political, social and economic life of the country. These changes will have significant impact on the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Promoting the Integrity of the Electoral Process

From 1951 to 2008, seventeen elections of the State Great Hural or Ulsyn Ikh Khural were held inMongolia. During this period, elections were often used by the communist party MPRP as a way of strengthening their existing political monopoly and identifying the opposition. Since then, democratic progress has been sporadic and unpredictable. Although the opposition coalition has fared well in several elections since 1990, that time saw little electoral progress, no matter who was in government.

ANFREL aims to promote the integrity of the election process and highlight several essential steps to guarantee basic fair competition in the country’s democratic elections, those are:

  1. Promote access to a transparent voter registration process:

Ensuring a comprehensive and accurate voter-roll that is accessible to the public is imperative to make sure that only eligible voters are allowed to vote on Election Day. A clean and transparent voter-roll will increase public acceptance of the election result.

  1. Promote fair level playing field at any means;

The competition will never be able to be called fair as long as the playing field, both the campaign and electoral environment is seen as unfair or too tilted to favor one side or the other. Judgement of the level playing field includes not only the campaign period; rather it begins at the very beginning and includes an assessment of each of the electoral phases from start to finish.  This includes monitoring the use of state machinery and state facilities; they should never be used in a way that favors the ruling party.

  1. Promote the professionalism of the electoral officers to perform in a neutral manner

Elections are usually only rigged with the participation of electoral officers at various levels. The notion of increasing the professionalism of electoral officers then, should be promoted as a crucial factor to increase public trust in the electoral result as well as a means to avoid disputes and a repetition of the destructive civil unrest that occurred after the 2008 election.

Reducing Potential Election Related Violence

Politically motivated violence occurring after the election in 2008 was triggered by the oppositions’ dissatisfaction to the electoral results. What began as mass protests escalated into civilian unrest and violence; protesters set the MPRP’s office on fire and a state of emergency was imposed by the government in response. The potential for violence remains high, along with growing demand for serious electoral reform. Through promotion of the election’s integrity and the presence of impartial elections observers, perhaps the electoral truth can be revealed and respected by all parties. If it is, hopefully they will refrain from making false accusations that might provoke people to commit violence. In a political setting likeMongolia, where under the surface tensions remains, the presence of international election observers that can speak out on the conduct of the election will be crucial in the upcoming election.


[3] The Asia Foundation (2009) “Mongolia – Voter Education Survey”,Ulaanbaatar, p. 44

[4] The Asia Foundation (2009) “Mongolia – Voter Education Survey”,Ulaanbaatar, p. 47

[9] http://www.nso.mn/v3/

[10] The Asia Foundation (2009) “Mongolia – Voter Education Survey”,Ulaanbaatar, p. 19

[11] GEC data presented in MONFEMNET, Mongolian Women and Politics: 1992-1998, Information Package 2009

[12] The Asia Foundation (2009) “Mongolia – Voter Education Survey”,Ulaanbaatar, p. 20

[14] The Asia Foundation (2009) “Mongolia – Voter Education Survey”,Ulaanbaatar, p 49

[15] The Asia Foundation (2009) “Mongolia – Voter Education Survey”,Ulaanbaatar, p. 32

[16] The Asia Foundation (2009) “Mongolia – Voter Education Survey”,Ulaanbaatar, p. 33

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