DP stalwarts of the democratic revolution like Elbegdorj, but also Ulaanbaatar’s mayor, Erdeniin Bat-Uul, continue to dominate the party, along with other factional heads such as the speaker of parliament, Zandaakhuu Enkhbold. Much of this DP old guard is set to run again in this month’s election, fueling some frustration among Mongolian voters who feel that there are few attractive choices and alternatives.
Until there is a significant upturn in world commodity prices, the current economic woes are likely to continue through the presidential election in June 2017.
Meanwhile, although an amended electoral law that handicaps smaller parties has grabbed headlines, debates about the election system are nothing new in Mongolia. The last three parliamentary elections—in 2004, 2008 and 2012—have all been run in different ways. This month’s election looks set to return to the 2004 system of 76 directly elected, first-past-the-post constituencies, after a high court ruled that proportional representation, which was partially introduced in 2012, was unconstitutional.
It does not take much imagination to recognize that majoritarian elections favor large parties and incumbents. Therefore, this electoral shift seems like an attempt by the DP—and perhaps to a lesser extent the MPP, which looks set to move out of the opposition and back into government—to maintain its share of power in Mongolia’s parliament, known as the State Great Khural.
Other measures have reinforced this impression. The official campaign period ahead of election day on June 29 has ostensibly been shortened to 18 days, starting June 11, in order to reduce the amount of spending by candidates and theoretically make it easier for smaller candidates to enter the election. It is not clear that that will be the effect, however. A shorter campaign period would seem to represent a clear benefit to better-known incumbents, especially when coupled with majoritarian voting. This is especially the case since candidates are not allowed to appear publicly in their constituencies prior to the beginning of the campaign, though incumbents are much less restricted in this regard.
It is also no surprise that the DP-appointed General Election Commission is addressing administrative shortcomings in party and candidate registration by ruling such candidacies out. This seems to have removed the upstart XUN Party from the ballot already, and is likely to exclude former president—and convicted money launderer—Nambaryn Enkhbayar, as well.
Where does this leave the actual content of parties’ campaign platforms? In truth, the substance of political discourse ahead of the election seems to be outweighed by manipulations of the political process. So far, no political parties have announced any major policy initiatives that would see departures from the current government. Since candidates are legally bound to their party’s platform in campaigning, it is unlikely that the campaign will hold any major surprises.
Mongolians have grown critical of their political institutions while remaining committed to democracy in the abstract. As the country prepares for this election campaign, there is little on the horizon likely to inspire voters in their political institutions—and much to be cynical about. Some of that cynicism may express itself in lower-than-expected voter turnout; it even seems possible that some constituencies will not see the minimum 50 percent voting rates stipulated in the election law.
While the new government is likely to be led by the MPP, the lack of policy differences between the large party platforms suggests that the biggest question is not whether policies, economic or otherwise, will shift. Instead, it is whether the MPP will forego an opportunity for yet another wholesale replacement of public servants, and whether anti-corruption efforts will continue to be politicized. Those factors will likely have a significant impact on Mongolians’ confidence in democracy, shaping the country for years to come.