Describing a political rally for Mongolia’s president at a ger town on the steppe in 2001, Peter Hessler wrote in the New Yorker, “More than three hundred people waited for Bagabandi in a pasture just north of the town. Some of them arrived on motorcycles, and others had come on horseback, most were dressed in the best dels—traditional woollen cloaks. When the helicopter landed, they rushed over the grass, pressing close to the battered Russian Mi-8. The President stepped out, smiling and waving to the crowd.” [Source: Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, July 16, 2001 ~~]

At a town meeting in a government, “There wasn’t any sign of fear among the herdsmen, who often challenged the candidates, sometimes aggressively.” At one meeting “a man openly accused a the Democratic candidate of being a lair. Usually, though, the people were respectful and there was a purity and intimacy to these exchanges.” “Bagabandi and his ministers answered questions carefully. The President gave the statistics for nationwide dzud losses and said he was working to get more assistance to this region. Then he passed the mike to the local member of parliament who talked about problems with crime.”

Describing a whistle stop train tour by a rival presidential candidate, Hessler wrote, “At each town, the train stopped for fifteen minutes while Gonchigdorj took a ceremonial sip from a bowl of milk, sprinkled a few drips in the air in honor of local spirits, and gave a brief speech. Along the way, his assistants distributed calendars featuring Genghis Khan in a pensive pose beneath the inscription “Democratic Mongolia.”

Politicians in Mongolia

Politicians routinely promise to end poverty and accuse each other of corruption. Elderly voters often remain loyal to the former Communists. One elderly woman told AP in 2005, “All the candidates sounded the same to me so I just voted for my old party...We know that party. That’s the party that used to rule Mongolia.” Opposition members claim that critics are threatened by secret police and procedural rules ensure that the Communist party dominates the parliament. They also allege the party has held on to possessions from the Soviet era, including property, media holdings and helicopters.

Sam Knight wrote in the Times of London, “Politicians are perceived as the chiefs of a flimsy and endemically corrupt public sector in which even doctors and teachers expect small bribes for routine services. A poll by the Mongolian branch of Transparency International, the corruption watchdog, showed that one in four Mongolians bribed a public official in the first three months of this year.” [Source: Sam Knight, Times of London, July 21, 2007]

Politics and Democratic Centralism in Soviet-Era Mongolia


Between 1924 and 1990, the Mongolian political system and apparatus, patterned after those in the Soviet Union, followed the organizational principle of democratic centralism. As applied in the Soviet Union, this principle concentrated decision-making authority and the power to take policy initiatives at senior party levels. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Throughout the party system, the decisions of higher-level bodies were binding on subordinate-level party organizations. The democratic feature of this Leninist principle prescribed that members of party organizations at all levels were elected by conferences of delegates and were accountable to their respective electorates. Policy issues were to be discussed freely within the party organizations, but once final decisions (expressed in programs) were adopted, strict party discipline then dictated that policies be implemented exactly, without any further expressions of disagreement. *

As is true of any communist-run state, the party's influence and voice were authoritative and all high government officials belonged to the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (see Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party). Nevertheless, in order to establish the mechanisms of government for pursuing the party program, the Constitution provided authority to key state executive, legislative, and judicial bodies, and defines their respective character, composition, and powers.

Politics in Mongolia in the Early 2000s

Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “During my last meeting with Sumati [a prominent Mongolian pollster] before the election, he remarked that there were indeed authoritarian elements in Mongolian politics, especially in Bagabandi’s camp. “He’ll be quite quiet until after May 20th,” Sumati said. “And then he will create some problems. He’ll try to show some principles, but I’m afraid that those principles are not democratic principles. They are authoritarian principles.” [Source: Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, July 16, 2001 ~~]

“Sumati grinned. He seemed to delight in pointing out the frailties of the Mongolian system; earlier he had told me about a mudslinging campaign that was going on between the MPRP and the Democratic Party. The Democrats had accused Bagabandi of accepting a million dollars in bribes from the Chinese; meanwhile, there were insinuations that Gonchigdorj and other former coalition leaders had hindered the investigation into Zorig’s murder, and there was talk of a scandal from Gonchigdorj’s days as a math professor, during which he had allegedly helped a Mongolian youth team cheat at an international math competition. This insinuation seemed to give Sumati particular pleasure, possibly because his wife is a mathematician who once worked with Gonchigdorj at the Academy of Sciences. “It was quite a nice place until Gonchigdorj arrived,” Sumati had once told me, with a smile. ~~

“That was his characteristic pose—the detached acuity of someone who is both an insider and an outsider—and it occurred to me that it was one of the traits that made him so good at what he did. He was dressed as he had been when I’d last seen him: gray Umbro sweatshirt and faded jeans. He was sitting beneath one of the Democratic Party campaign posters of Genghis Khan—a new addition to his office—and I asked him why he had put it up. ~~

”I don’t know why they think Genghis Khan was a Democrat,” he said. When I asked whether he supported the Democrats, he shook his head and said that the only candidate who impressed him was Dashnyam, a political unknown who had become something like the Ralph Nader of Mongolian politics. By Sumati’s estimate, Dashnyam currently had seven-per-cent support in Ulaanbaatar. “I’ll vote for somebody who is in opposition to the MPRP, even though he doesn’t have a chance,” Sumati said. “Just for my own pleasure, maybe.” ~~

Political Parties in Mongolia

Political parties and leaders in Mongolia: 1) Civil Will-Green Party or CWGP led by Sanjaasuren Oyun, Sambuu Demberel and Tserendorj Gankhuyag; 2) Democratic Party or DP led by Zandaakhuu Enkhbold; 3) Justice Coalition (includes MPRP and MNDP); 4) Mongolian National Democratic Party or MNDP led by Mendsaikhan Enkhsaikhan; 5) Mongolian People's Party or MPP led by Miyegombo Enkhbold; 6) Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party or MPRP led by Nambar Enkhbayar. Political pressure groups and leaders: various human rights groups; women's groups; disability rights groups. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Political parties in Mongolia frequently merge, break up and change their names. Political parties in the early 2000s included the Mongolian Republican Party (MRP) led by Bazarsadyn Jargalsaikhan, one of Mongolia’s richest men. His Buyan Co. processes cashmere. Other small parties included Green Party, the Mongolian National United Party, and the Mongolian Traditional National Party. Some of the older parties included the Party for National Renaissance, the United Party of Herdsmen and Peasants, the Bourgeois Party, the Private Owner's Party and the Independence Party.

The Civic Movement party - which has a history of activism and working through non-governmental organisations - had played a leading role in the 2008 post-election protests, as they did in peaceful protests two years ago. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, July 2, 2008]

Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) Versus Mongolian People's Party (MPP)

In 2010, the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) — the Communist Party that had ruled Mongolia during most of its existence as and independent country — voted to retake the name of the Mongolian People's Party (MPP), a name it used in the early 1920s. Shortly thereafter, a new party was formed by former president Nambaryn Enkhbayar, which confusingly adopted for itself the MPRP name.

The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) used to refer to Mongolia’s long entrenched Communist Party. In March, 1920,the Mongolian People's Party (MPP) was formed. It established links with the Communist International and Soviets a few months later. Mongolia won its independence in 1921 with Soviet backing and a communist regime was installed in 1924. August 1924, the Mongolian People's Party becomes Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party.

The MPRP led Mongolia under communism until 1990, when it ended one-party rule after street protests, but was elected into office in 1992. In 1996, the Communists (MPRP) were unexpectedly ousted after being in power for more than 70 years. They returned to power in the parliamentary elections in 2000

The Mongolian People's Party reverted to its original pre-1924 name ("Mongolian People's Party", without the word "Revolutionary") in 2010. The new Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party was created in 2010, when its whose members split from the original party after the name change. The party is led by Enkhbayar, who for all intents and purposes kicked out of the MPP after serious corruption allegations were made against him.

In the 2010, the distribution of mining wealth became a major political issue. The Democratic Party said it would create a fund to distribute mining profits evenly throughout society, including via pensions. The MPP — Mongolia's oldest party — made similar promises although also without giving much detail. "We will have a national sovereign wealth fund created that would benefit the people equitably," an MPP spokeswoman said. "We will also support seriously education and health systems, which would contribute to the quality of life of the ordinary people." [Source: AFP, June 29, 2012 ^^^]

The MPP was hurt by the acrimonious split with Enkhbayar, who broke away from the party to form his own organisation. He was barred from standing for a seat in parliament amid the fall-out of a corruption scandal. Enkhbayar denies any wrongdoing and despite the fact he cannot personally run. ^^^

Old Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party

The Peoples Revolutionary Party (MPRP) — now the the Mongolian People's Party (MPP See Above) — is the former Communist Party that ruled Mongolia during the Soviet era. It racaste itself as a social democratic party and was headed for a long time by former President and Prime Minister Nambar Enkhbayer. See History

The MPRP dominated Mongolia from 1921 to 1990. In 1992 the MPRP endorsed the Buddhist doctrine of "the middle way." They support multiparty democracy, market reforms. One leader said, “We recognize that private property is the most important line of understanding in a democratic society.”

Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, The “Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party is an old party with a new face. It ran the country during the Soviet era, and it converted livestock into state-owned property, organized the nomads into rural collectives, and engaged in a brutal crackdown on Buddhism and in political purges that killed many thousands. The Soviets also invested heavily in social services and significantly raised the average Mongolian’s standard of living. In the seven decades of Soviet rule, the country’s population tripled, the average life expectancy doubled, and the rate of literacy soared to almost a hundred per cent. [Source: Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, July 16, 2001 ~]

After the collapse of Soviet rule, the MPRP changed course. At the urging of the IMF, the World Bank, and other international organizations, it dismantled state industries, lowered trade barriers, disbanded the livestock collectives, and redistributed the animals to the nomads.” In parliamentary election in 1996, the MPRP lost to the Democrats. In parliamentary elections in 2000, “the MPRP promised to increase social-support programs, and it was swept back into power.” ~~

Democrats in Mongolia

The Democratic Party (DP) was formally known as the Motherland Democracy Coalition (MDC), which in turn was formally known as the Democratic Union Coalition. In 2004 it consisted of the Mongolian Democratic Party (MDP) , the Mongolian New Socialist Party and the Civil-Courage Republican Party.

The Democrats have been troubled by infighting and division in the ranks. They have traditionally drawn support from anti-Communists and urban voters mostly in Ulaanbaatar. Enkhbayar advocated direct subsidies to poor families, lower taxes for private businesses and a larger share of profits from foreign mining companies.

Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “In the 1996 parliamentary elections, several opposition parties, coached by the International Republican Institute, formed the Democratic Coalition, and campaigned on a Contract with Mongolia, inspired by Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. The coalition won a majority and gained control of the government. (Mongolia is a parliamentary democracy, similar to the French model, in which the President has much less power than in the American system.) The coalition accelerated the shock-therapy transition, and its members bickered among themselves, appointing four Prime Ministers in four years. In 1998, the coalition’s most charismatic leader, Zorig, was stabbed to death; the crime remains unsolved, and most Mongolians believe that it was politically motivated. [Source: Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, July 16, 2001]

Former Communists Versus the Democrats in Mongolia

Dr. Julian Dierkes of the Institute of Asian Research wrote: “The countryside is the traditional base of support for the MPRP” [former Communists] while the Democrats “draws largely on urban voters. If voter turnout is high, meaning around 80 percent, that will probably bode well for Democrats Elbegdorj, said Luvsandendev Sumati, director of the Sant Maral Foundation, a group that does polling and surveys.

"What might change the election outcome is only feet," Sumati said. "The MPRP and their candidates were always better organized so their supporters are voting in an organized manner. But Democratic Party supporters, they are rather those who think, 'Well, should I go or not?'" [Source: Dr. Julian Dierkes, Institute of Asian Research, UBC, June 1 2009]

In 2013, Tsakhia Elbegdorj’s victory in presidential elections cemented the DP’s political dominance, giving it control of the presidency, the prime minister’s office and the parliamentary speakership. The Economist reported: That dominance will probably last until the next parliamentary election in 2016. Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, a DP member of parliament representing a district in the south of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, said that since her party had only ever enjoyed such control for two single-year stints during the 23 years of democratic rule, it now had an unprecedented opportunity. “The DP finally has the chance to show what it can do. For the first time we will really be allowed to implement our programme,” she said. [Source: The Economist, June 29, 2013 ^*^]

“That programme features promises that were also touted by the other candidates, on issues that are widely recognised by businessmen and development experts in Mongolia and abroad as most important to the nation’s future. These are the management of the vast mining and resource boom, improvements in transport and power infrastructure and coping with the stubborn prevalence of corruption. ^*^

“Another highly touted initiative of Mr Eglbegdorj’s party has been the decentralisation of budgeting decisions. Julian Dierkes, a Mongolia analyst at the University of British Columbia, says moves to devolve spending decisions to province- and county-level authorities have been very popular in rural areas and certainly boosted votes for Mr Elbegdorj. ^*^

“But some in the defeated MPP worry that the concentration of power in the hands of the DP, along with the term limit that prevents Mr Elbegdorj from standing for the presidency again, could prove dangerous. They worry he might engage in an unhealthy attempt to use the presidency’s judicial powers to mount politically motivated corruption investigations. Political rivals have reason to worry.” ^*^

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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