Mongolian activists pressure gov't to fulfill election promises

A primary cause of upheaval in Central Asia over the past five years has been the inability of governments in the region to respond to popular concerns and complaints. Mongolian leaders now appear determined not to make the same kind of mistakes, and have taken steps in recent months to demonstrate a greater degree of accountability.

For much of the past two decades, Mongolian leaders practiced a post-Soviet style of electoral politics, in which many promises were proffered during a campaign season only to be forgotten following the election. Lately, however, Mongolian officials have been making a far greater effort to follow up on their pledges, and respond to the desires of the electorate.

"We want to reduce the money factor. With every election, money is becoming the main factor," said opposition deputy Sanjaasuren Oyun, the lone representative in parliament for the Civil Will Party.

"In 2000, the Civil Will Party was a lonely voice calling for good governance and didn’t get much support. But in the last few years, there’s more," Oyun told

While the trend toward accountability may have gained speed in recent years, a series of early April protests has helped to place the accountability issue onto the center stage of Mongolian politics. Around 5,000 protestors converged on Ulan Bator’s main square on April 5 to demand that the parliament pay each citizen 1.5 million tugriks (about $1,150) as promised during campaigns in 2008.

The promise is connected to a $5 billion deal concluded with Canada-based Ivanhoe Mines to exploit the Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper deposit. The government agreed to the deal last fall, and public concern over the use of the nation’s mineral wealth has since grown.

"The population feels that the [quality of living] is worse [now] than at the same time last year," says political analyst Luvsandendev Sumati, whose Sant Maral Foundation conducts polling across the country.

"Now we have an elite that is interested in tuning the machinery. Otherwise we’ll have a situation like in Kyrgyzstan with non-stop revolt. [Mongolia’s elite politicians] are rich and well off, and they want to stay that way. If they want to stay country managers, they need to be more professional," Sumati added.

Spearheaded by a coalition of civic groups called the People’s Movement to Demand Election Promises, or ANATX, protest leaders demanded that deputies resign if they refused to approve the promised payments.

The government agreed to distribute the money, but largely in the form of social services rather than as direct cash handouts. Refusing to compromise, ANATX leaders organized a hunger strike that started on April 9. The strike will end, the civil society activists insist, only when their demands are met – a strategy that echoes the hunger strike of the original democratic protests in 1990. Some of the people participating in the hunger strike were hospitalized on April 14.


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