ELECTIONS IN MONGOLIA

ELECTIONS IN MONGOLIA

Legislative elections are held every four years a year before the presidential elections. The last held on 28 June 2012 (next to be held in June 2016).There were also ones in June 2004 and 2008. Results from the 2012 election results; seats by party - DP 33, MPP 27, Justice Coalition 11, independent 3, CWGP 2. Four seats were determined after the election; 2 DP candidates gained seats when winning MPP candidates were determined to have broken electoral law; candidates in 2 other constituencies did not receive the necessary 28 percent of the vote to be elected, and MPP candidates won both seats in repolling; seats by party as of May 2015 - DP 35, MPP 26, Justice Coalition 10, independent 3, CWGP 2. =

The president is elected every four years by a direct, nation-wide popular vote. There are direct elections for the president. He or she needs more than 50 percent of the vote to win. If that fails to occur. A run off is held with the top two vote-getters in the first round of elections. The president can serve a maximum of two terms. Presidential candidates are nominated by political parties represented in State Great Hural. The last election last held on June 26, 2013. The next one is June 2017. There were also ones in May 2005 and 2009. The 2013 presidential election results: Tsakhia Elbegdorj was elected president with 50.2 percent followed by Badmaanyambuu Bat-erdene with 42 percent, Natsag Udval with 6.5 percent, and others, 1.3 percent.

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal. According to the U.S. Department of State: The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, and citizens exercised that ability... Polling place observers judged both the presidential elections in 2013 and parliamentary elections in 2012 to have been generally free and fair in accordance with the constitution and international standards, but expert observers concluded that vague equal access provisions of the election law prevented the media from playing a significant role in providing relevant information to voters. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015: Mongolia,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

An Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election observer mission at the 2013 presidential election assessed the election as free and fair, following a competitive campaign conducted in an environment that respected fundamental freedoms. Nevertheless, the OSCE noted several problems, including that the secrecy of the vote was not always protected. Observers also expressed concern about restrictive and unclear legal provisions that prevented media from providing sufficient information to voters. The law requires presidential candidates to be members of political parties, preventing independent candidates from running. \*\

See History.

Election Details and Campaigns in Mongolia

Voting is for anyone over 18 except for the mentally ill. The polls usually open around 7:00am. Exit polls are banned. In Mongolia’s earliest elections, the voter turn out was usually very high, often over 80 percent. It was 83 percent in the presidential election in 2000 but only 53 percent in the presidential election in 2004. Some say the high turn out was a holdover from the Soviet era when voting was compulsory. Other said it was because of passion for democracy. It is probably a little bit of both.

National elections have been free of charges of fraud and vote rigging but there have been allegations of vote buying. Former Communists still dominate many local election boards that register voters and staff the polling stations. Many voters have said they chose the candidates the did because their parents or a village elder told them to.

During campaigns the Prime Minister and President are able to cover much of the country in a helicopter. Ordinary parliamentary members have a little more difficulty. In some cases they travel 100 kilometers between gers to talk to a handful voters. “It’s a slow process,” one parliamentary candidate told the Times of London.

Julian Dierkes, who served as an election observer in Mongolia, wrote in Mongolia Focus: “One of the joys and strengths of Mongolian democracy is the vibrancy of the media, traditional as well as online. However, the Achilles heel of this vibrancy is the lack of credible information about the ownership of media outlets, whether they are broadcast, print, or online media. In the context of many media outlets that are owned and operated privately, there are numerous such outlets that are directly tied to prominent politicians or parties, or associated closely with political actors.” [Source: Julian Dierkes, Mongolia Focus, June 8, 2015 |:|]

Campaigning on the Steppes of Mongolia

Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “Züünbayan-Ulaan is nothing more than a small cluster of concrete buildings—a school, a government center, a town hall, some houses—and most of its five thousand four hundred and thirty-one residents live in felt tents, called gers, in the surrounding countryside. More than three hundred people stood waiting for Bagabandi in a pasture just north of town. Some of them had arrived on motorcycles, and others had come on horseback; most were dressed in their 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 ~~]

“None of the roads into Züünbayan-Ulaan are paved. There’s a grass track that comes in from Arvaykheer, the provincial capital, and that was how I had travelled the day before, along with a translator and a photographer, in a four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi. We had driven southwest from Ulaanbaatar—a trip of eleven hours. On the way, we had passed through half a dozen permanent settlements. Occasionally, I could see a ger tucked into the crease of a valley, but mostly the land was empty. There were virtually no trees; huge hawks and kites perched heavily on the grass. Sometimes my driver had to honk to get them off the road. In the vast landscape, with its endless backdrop of green mountains, the only changing element was the weather. It rushed past us in waves, as if the sun and the wind and the rain were trying to fill all that emptiness. ~~

“Bagabandi was campaigning on the need for stability. In the town hall, he gave a speech in which he promised to work for the kind of non-partisan government that would find favor with the big international donors, who had recently pledged twenty-five million dollars in emergency dzud relief. The town hall had plywood walls and an old wooden floor that had been painted red. Bare electric bulbs hung from the ceiling. More than four hundred people listened intently. Near the end of his speech, Bagabandi said, “Next week in Paris, there will be a meeting of donor countries, and the international community will give us assistance. I will continue to promote an open foreign policy. Meanwhile, your job is to tend your livestock and recover from the effects of the winter. ~~

Opposition Campaigning in Mongolia

Describing his time the main opposition candidate, Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “A month earlier, I had travelled with Gonchigdorj on a whistle-stop train trip to the Siberian border. We stopped in Partizan, Batsumber, Tünkhel—tiny settlements of a few hundred people. At each town, the train paused for fifteen minutes while Gonchigdorj took a ceremonial sip from a bowl of milk, sprinkled a few drops in the air in honor of the 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.” ~~

“Gonchigdorj is a former math professor who first made his mark in politics as a leader of the 1990 pro-democracy movement. He is forty-seven years old, and has a round face, slick black hair, and a reputation for opportunism. I met him in his private carriage on the way north; he was resting between stops, sipping tea while the scenery slipped past. “The ruling party is against privatization,” he told me. “The reason is that during the Communist regime we couldn’t even talk about that issue, and the MPRP still believes that the state should own everything. It’s softening, of course, but it’s still there.” ~~

“The train trip did not go well. The crowds were small and unfriendly, and the northward swing ended at Altanbulag, a town on the Russian border whose residents seemed more involved with the movement of strange goods across the border than with the drama of the election. I saw a cluster of ethnic Buryat women packing spools of thread into empty laptop-computer cases, which they then transported into Russia. Nobody could explain this activity to me. At the border station, a sad-faced young man was trying to use a bicycle pump to inflate the left front tire of a red Lada. He paused when Gonchigdorj came through, and when the politician left he started pumping again.” ~~

Colorful Mongolian Elections

Mongolian elections are colorful affairs in the countryside. Many of the polling stations are set up in the middle of nowhere in gers People arrive wearing their best clothes: monks in maroon robes, military men in uniforms, businessmen in suits and mounted horsemen in traditional embroidered coats. Some people ride on horseback 100 kilometers to reach the polling stations. Others who are too old and frail have the voting boxes and ballots bought to them by jeep.

Some polling station workers drink large quantities of koumiss while on the job. Ballots are sometime counted by candlelight. Describing a polling station set up in a ger on a hill on the steppe in 2001, Peter Hessler wrote in the New Yorker, “Inside the station were two tables, a ballot box, and a red screen that afforded privacy to voters. There were six people at the tables. They were observers representing all three parties. The main official...was also headmaster of the local secondary school.”

“We waited nearly two hours before a voter appeared. Finally two men materialized on an old Soviet Planeta 5 motorcycle...After they voted, by circling a name on a ballot, an official marked the index finger of their left hands with a blot of indelible ink. It was hard to keep track of herdsmen, and the Mongolia had started using the system....to make sure people didn’t vote again at another station.” One election station in 2001 used so much ink “it looked as if 82.42 percent of the Mongolian adult population had smashed their fingers with a hammer.”

Election Day in Mongolia

Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “ On Election Day, there was a high blue sky and almost no wind; the sun glanced bright off the gers. I was heading south with Chinzorig, my translator, in his 1992 Toyota Carina, looking for Voting Station No. 69. After an hour, the paved road gave way to a grass track. There were few people living here, but there was a lot of traffic, because one of the country’s most important Buddhist shrines was ahead of us. We passed Mitsubishi jeeps, Toyota coupes, and old Lada sedans. We saw two yellow cabs parked in the middle of a pasture, where their occupants were having a picnic. [Source: Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, July 16, 2001 ~~]

“We kept going. Hawks floated beneath thin wisps of cirrus cloud; there was nothing else in sight but grass and sky. After a while, Chinzorig turned off the track, and we climbed a hill. We crested a ridge and saw a Mongolian flag flapping outside the voting station, which had been set up in a ger.” The main official “was twenty-nine years old, and he spoke Mongolian, Russian, Tibetan, and some English. He showed me the registration list for the district, which covered sixty square miles with a population of two hundred and forty-five people, of whom exactly a hundred had already voted. Shinbatar was an MPRP member. He told me proudly that Mongolia was following the American system of democracy. ”We’re learning how to do it,” he said. “We’ve made a step forward, but it’s not enough. America is a powerful country, while here in Mongolia we have nomads spread everywhere. We should unite together and build more cities.” ~~

One man who voted “told me that he had voted for Bagabandi. He was twentysix years old, and he said that he had lost thirty animals last winter; he had ten left. He wasn’t sure how he’d make it through the next year. When I asked him why he’d voted for Bagabandi, he said that his parents had asked him to. He smiled and shook my hand, and then he headed off, with his friend on the back of the bike....”

Changes in Parliamentary Elections

A range of new measures were introduced in the 2012 parliamentary elections to boost transparency, including the use of an electronic voting system. The automated system is expected to see the results announced very quickly, potentially within hours of the polls closing. [Source: AFP, April 14, 2012]

Li Narangoa of Australian National University wrote: “The 2008 riots came as a shock to Mongolians and damaged its image as a country that made a smooth transition to democracy. Mongolian leaders seem to have learned the lesson and are cautious not to repeat the mistakes of 2008 because with investors around the world closely watching Mongolia’s political stability, the country’s economic future is at stake. [Source: Li Narangoa, eastasiaforum.org, July 10, 2012; Li is Professor at the College of Asia and the Pacific, the Australian National University \=/]

“In addition to introducing a new election system (a combination of the majority and proportional system of voting) that benefits smaller parties, the new election law also permitted Mongolian citizens living overseas to vote, and introduced a quota system to ensure that no less than 20 per cent of the candidates are women. From the 35,000 expected overseas voters, fewer than 3000 actually lodged their vote. The overseas voting method may have caused this meagre result: because no postal voting was allowed, voters had to appear at the Mongolian diplomatic posts, and so voters were mainly restricted to the places where Mongolian embassies happened to be located. \=/

Julian Dierkes wrote in Mongolia Focus: “The Mongolian General Election Commission has been challenged in recent elections by some fairly late changes in election system, such as the abandonment of the female candidates’ quota in 2008, its institutionalization in the 2012 election, but also the introduction of a proportional representation national party list in the 2012 election. From my perspective, the GEC has done a good job under challenging circumstances, particularly when it comes to public information about voter registration and voting procedures. [Source: Julian Dierkes, Mongolia Focus, June 8, 2015 |:|]

“The Mongolian parliament has also taken some quite progressive steps that facilitate voter education, such as the power of the GEC to check party platforms against their (fiscal) feasibility, i.e. “no unfunded promises”. Candidates’ campaign literature is also checked against approved and published party platforms. This is meant to give voters a chance to familiarize themselves with readily-available party platforms to inform their decision on candidates and parties. It presumably also provides an incentive to parties to pass campaign platforms that are clear and accessible to voters, as well as presenting policy choices.” |:|

Election Monitoring in Mongolia

Dr. Julian Dierkes of the Institute of Asian Research wrote: “As an international election observer with the Asia Foundation in 2008, I had observed 23 polling stations in and around Ulaanbaatar. For the presidential election, I joined the Mongolia office of the German Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation to monitor the elections in Zavkhan Aimag (province) approximately 1,000km west of Ulaanbaatar. We observed the opening of the polls and the counting of votes in a polling station in the aimag capital, Uliastay. In the course of the day, we travelled over 200km by car to observe voting in three further polling stations in Uliastay, in three polling stations in county seats (sum centres) and in two election yurts available to pastoral herders. We did not encounter any evidence of systematic or wide-spread election fraud. [Source: Dr. Julian Dierkes, Institute of Asian Research, UBC, June 1 2009 =|=]

“The attitude many Mongolians display and the sometimes heroic effort officials undertake in the organization of the election is inspiring. Poll opening ceremonies include brief speeches by the oldest and youngest registered voter. Older voters line up to vote at 7h, dressed in their finest traditional deels, young voters stream into polling stations until 22h. Herding families vote in shifts to guard animals while members of the family travel to polling stations. The staging of elections requires considerable effort by local bureaucracies. Mobile voting is available by law to voters with medical conditions. In one rural riding the mobile ballot box travelled 84 km to reach four voters. Local authorities hire rental yurts (a voter is emerging from such a polling station in the photograph) to reduce the distance any individual voter has to travel to vote to no more than 130km by law, approximately 40km in practice. =|=

“Compared to polling in Ulaanbaatar, elections in the countryside present very different challenges. While there is concern about multiple voting in the city exploiting weaknesses in the voter registration process, the lack of anonymity in the countryside makes such fraud virtually impossible. By contrast, voters’ ability to make independent choices seems more threatened in rural areas where party patronage often leads to the only stable employment available and the sheer dearth of officials means that prominent individuals who are known to be aligned with a particular party are very visible in polling stations. However, local officials make a great effort to provide a private voting booth (a curtain inside an election yurt behind the ballot box pictured left).” =|=

Other challenges include the lack of party observers in rural polling stations and the chain of communication to county and provincial officials. While I saw polling stations with more than 15 party observers in urban polling stations during last year’s parliamentary election, rural voting was often not witnessed by party observers. One local official mentioned that he would travel 15km by horse after counting the votes to be within cell phone range to inform county officials of the election results pointing to a number of possible weaknesses in communication. =|=

Mongolia’s Premier Pollster

Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “The most astute political pollster in Mongolia is a half-Jewish Mongol named Sumati. He runs a public polling organization called the Sant Maral Foundation, which consists of him, two assistants, two computers, and two telephones, all operating out of one room in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. From there, Sumati surveys a country more than twice as big as Texas. He has done independent advance polling for the past three Mongolian national elections, two of which involved major changes of political power, and, in each case, his results predicted the winner to within fewer than 2.8 percentage points. [Source: Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, July 16, 2001 ~~]

”Sumati’s bloody good,” one Western diplomat told me recently. “He was dead on with that parliamentary election last year. Nobody listened to him, but he was right.” I met Sumati in April, when I arrived in Mongolia to cover the Presidential election, which was held on May 20th. There were three candidates: the incumbent, Bagabandi, representing the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP); Gonchigdorj, the choice of the Democratic Party; and Dashnyam, of the Civil Will Party. (Most Mongolians use only one name.) ~~

“During our first meeting, Sumati predicted that the final results would be extremely close to the findings of his initial poll, which had shown fifty-eight per cent of the vote going to Bagabandi. When I asked if Sumati had used random-sampling techniques, he gave me a look that suggested that this wasn’t the brightest question he’d ever heard. ”A sample-collection method doesn’t work in Mongolia, because half the population are nomads,” he explained. “You can’t do random sampling with nomads. For random sampling, you need to have a situation where every person in the target population has an equal probability of getting into your sample. But in Mongolia you can’t predict where the nomads will be.” ~~

“Sumati is forty-five years old, and he speaks excellent English, with a Russian accent. His mother was Latvian and his father was Mongolian, and they met while attending university in Moscow. Sumati grew up in Ulaanbaatar, and later he did research in applied mathematics, social sciences, and artificial intelligence in St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is a thin man with high cheekbones, sallow skin, bushy black hair, and gray-green eyes. He looks a lot like what you’d expect a Mongolian Jew to look like. Professionally, his unusual appearance is something of a handicap, because it prevents him from doing his own polling. (His assistants distribute the questionnaires.) “I look like a foreigner,” he said. “It creates a bias, I’m afraid.” Sumati was always polite with me, but when it came to revealing personal details he had the caginess of an outsider.” ~~

“Sumati never spoke idealistically about Mongolian democracy. When I asked him about the chances of an upset in the election, he said that Mongolia’s political climate was too immature and predictable for that. He told me that he had gone into polling largely because he had failed at business during the initial post-Communist period. “I was just looking for some kind of intellectual occupation,” he said. A friend introduced him to the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German pro-democracy organization, which was interested in supporting a Mongolian pollster. Sumati founded Sant Maral in 1994, and the foundation flew him to Germany so that he could see how polling was done in the West... But I sensed that Sumati may not have been quite as cynical as he liked to appear. He is the chairman of the board of directors for the Mongolian chapter of the Soros Foundation, which promotes democracy-building, and his polling work is widely admired.~~

Challenges for Improving Mongolian Elections

Julian Dierkes, who served as an election observer in Mongolia, wrote in Mongolia Focus: “Overall, I would say that the 2008 (despite the riots that followed), 2009, 2012, and 2013 elections were reasonably fair and free. While many rumours of electoral fraud swirled around these elections, no concrete evidence has ever emerged. The fact that electoral fraud only makes sense on a large scale suggests to me that evidence of any such national-scale fraud would have emerged over time. Of course, election monitoring is primarily focused on what happens in polling stations, any behind-the-scenes manipulation would be difficult to capture. [Source: Julian Dierkes, Mongolia Focus, June 8, 2015 |:|]

“Despite the overall quality of the elections, there is certainly room for improvement.The main challenges I have observed in the past include: 1) lack of confidence in results and unproven allegations of fraud; 2) variability in the electoral system; 3) an increasingly active role of the media, but limited regulation, particularly regarding ownership of media outlets; and 4) organization of collection of the results at the district level. |:|

“Mongolians’ confidence in the results of elections is shaken by all the unsubstantiated rumours that swirl around the press and politicians following the election. Clearly, rumour-mongering is a general pattern in the press, but it is the absence of evidence/further information that also plays a role in the tendency to jump to conspiracies as explanations, rather than offer actual evidence. |:|

“What can be done? Sant Maral’s Sumati is the only pollster in Mongolia, really. Yet, as he would likely readily concede, his polls are severely hampered by methodology (how do you poll a nomadic population?), the absence of a general social survey that would allow him to compare his results to such data to check representativeness, and – obviously – resources. The fact that credible, nation-wide pre-election polls are not possible, and that the number of exit polls is limited, means that election results stand on their own. In elections in many countries elsewhere, results are anticipated by polls and voters thus gain a sense that the election “came out right”. When there are surprises (most countries can point to elections that had surprise results, I think), they are examined, re-polled and re-examined at great length to figure out why polls were wrong. Note that the default explanation is that the polls were wrong, not that there was electoral fraud.

Using Smartphone Apps to Improve Mongolian Elections

Julian Dierkes, who served as an election observer in Mongolia, wrote in Mongolia Focus: “I could think of two strategies that seem promising in the Mongolian context: 1. further facilitation of access to information about candidates and parties, 2. application of tools to facilitate voters’ choices, particularly as they have been developed in German-speaking countries. While parties make information about platforms and candidates available, surely making access to this information easier could make a positive contribution. I am particularly thinking of the wide-spread adoption of smart phones in Mongolia that makes it possible to consider a voter education app to be deployed in 2016. Perhaps the GEC is already considering this, but it could also be an effort that would be organized privately. [Source: Julian Dierkes, Mongolia Focus, June 8, 2015 |:|]

“An app as I imagine it could be based on different organizing principles, location, party, candidates. A map would allow a voter to select her riding and to then receive information about the parties and candidates competing in that specific riding, as well as locations of polling stations, etc. The information made available here would come entirely from public sources, possibly via the GEC or directly from parties.Likewise, voters could be given the opportunity to search for candidates by name leading to standardized information about candidates’ biographies, including past offices held, etc. Party information would reproduce campaign platforms, etc. |:|

“A more ambitious version of such an app might facilitate a match of voters’ policy preferences with party platforms. This is a model that is well-established in German speaking countries by now as the Wahl-O-Mat in Germany, or Wahlkabine in Austria. In English such apps are know as “voting advice applications”, “voting aid applications” or “votematch tools”.These applications, mostly web-based until recently, allow voters (anonymously) to fill out a questionnaire on important policy choices and then point to a match or mismatch between these preferences and party/candidates’ platforms.

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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