POLITICS, THE PARTY AND GOVERNANCE IN COMMUNIST-ERA MONGOLIA

MONGOLIAN PEOPLE'S REVOLUTIONARY PARTY IN THE COMMUNIST ERA

Mongolia's communist party was established on March 1, 1921, with 164 members in a country that previously had no political parties. At that time, it was called the Mongolian People's Party. In August 1924 at the Third Party Congress, the party assumed its current nomenclature, the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party. It was the only political party, modeled closely after the organizational structure and party program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It had followed the Soviet example during most of its existence, and it continued to do so in mid-1989. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

The authoritative Party Program, the fourth in Mongolian history, which was adopted in 1966, states that party organizations serve as "the directing and guiding force of society and the state," and at the national level were decisive in setting policy, developing programs, and making key personnel appointments. Below the national level, party organizations and personnel ensure the implementation of the Party Program, maintain political discipline, and supervise appointment to all party and non-party organizations.*

Following the pattern of ongoing developments in the Soviet Union, high-level substantive discussions of party organizational reform measures were being held in 1989. One measure under consideration would have government bodies play an enhanced role as consultative bodies in the party's policy-making process. New senior government bodies that eventually could disperse some of the party's closely held power were being discussed. Consideration also was being given to the devolution of some decision-making powers from upper party levels to the primary party organizations. Nevertheless, in the late 1980s, top-level party organizations still continued to hold exceptional authority, dominating the governmental, economic, and military life of the country.*

Membership in Mongolia’s Communist Party

As of April 1988, party membership was reported at 89,588, an average of 1 in 11 of the adult population. According to the Rules of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, "anyone of the working people, acknowledging the Party Program and Rules, actively participating in their implementation, working in a party organization, and implementing all party resolutions, may be a member of the party." Membership was open to males and females at least eighteen years old, although those between eighteen and twenty years could earn party membership only through acquiring a good record as a Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League member. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

A candidate for party membership had to be be sponsored by a party member who had held a full membership for three years. After sponsorship, a candidate's acceptance into the party was discussed by a general meeting of the appropriate party cell and was considered resolved if at least two-thirds of those attending approved. Conversely, expulsion from the party was decided by a vote of at least two-thirds of party members present, but it was effective only after confirmation by the appropriate party committee at the next-highest level. Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party membership increased by 16 percent during the period 1981 to 1986.

Party Congresses in Soviet-Era Mongolia

The party congress, convened regularly every five years, was theoretically the most authoritative body in the Mongolian party system. The Nineteenth Party Congress of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, convened in May 1986, was attended by 851 delegates--for 79 percent of whom it was their first party congress. An overview of the composition of the delegates revealed that 66 percent also were deputies to the People's Great Hural or to assemblies of people's deputies. Thirty-three percent were workers in industry, construction and communications; 17 percent were collectivized herdsmen; and 50 percent were white-collar workers, including members of the military and the intelligentsia. Seventy-nine percent were of the majority Khalkha nationality. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

These statistics showed predominantly urban and educated delegates, and they indicated the professionalization of the Mongolian leadership, much like what had occurred in the Soviet Union by the 1960s. In 1986 women accounted for 21 percent of the total number of delegates, which suggested a substantial representation within the leadership until this figure was balanced against the 30 percent of total party membership that women held in 1986.*

The party congress also elected the Central Auditing Commission, which examined and verified state expenditures. The Nineteenth Party Congress elected a Central Auditing Commission of twenty-three members, smaller than the previous commission of thirty-one, elected in 1981. Eighty-three percent of the commission's members were newly elected.*

The Nineteenth Congress also stated its commitment to the existing Party Program, which in essence was dedicated to completing the "construction of socialism" in Mongolia. The Party Program contains the concepts and goals to be realized through the five-year plans and implemented by the government bureaucracy. As stated in the program, the party's role was to instill total commitment among citizens toward this goal: "The party will devote unflagging attention to organizing resolute struggle against views and morals as well as survivals of the past alien to socialism in the minds and lives of people." Extolling the values of patriotism and "proletarian internationalism," the program dictates that Mongolia "will educate the working people in the limitless love and devotion to their homeland, the Soviet Union and other countries in the socialist community." *

Because the party congress of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party met in regular session only every five years, it could not serve as the governing party organization. Rather, one of its key functions was to elect the Central Committee, the body that set the tone and established the overall leadership for the country. *

Central Committee of Mongolia’s Communist Party

The Central Committee elected by the Nineteenth Congress in 1986 included eighty-five members and sixty-five candidate members. It was a smaller body than the Central Committee elected at the Eighteenth Party Congress in 1981, which had an additional six members and six candidate members. Fifty-seven members were reelected to the Nineteenth Central Committee, eleven were promoted from candidate membership, and seventeen were newly appointed. No full members were demoted to candidate membership, but twenty-four retired, died, or had been removed. Candidate members filled the places of former Central Committee members. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

The number of members on the Nineteenth Central Committee was smaller than that of its predecessor, but the number of new members increased by 20 percent and of new candidate members, by 77 percent. Thus, the composition of the new Central Committee suggested trends toward reducing the size of the senior party leadership, toward adding new members, and toward initiating the newcomers through service first as candidate members. *

In 1989 the Central Committee had twelve departments responsible for managing specialized functions including a general department for overseeing and coordinating party affairs. The departments supervised cadres affairs; ideological matters; party organization; military and security affairs; foreign relations; planning and budget; industry; agriculture; construction; transportation and communications; and education, science, and health. Another key body, the Party Control Commission, was subordinate to the Central Committee and was responsible for maintaining internal party discipline and for dealing with incidents that challenge party authority. There also were a Higher Party School and an Institute of Social Studies (formerly the Party History Institute), both of which had the status of a Central Committee department. *

Politburo and Secretariat of Mongolia’s Communist Party

The Politburo (Political Bureau) was elected by the Central Committee to conduct the party's business between plenary sessions of the Central Committee and to provide the top leadership for the party and the country. As the senior policy-making body, it established specific goals; and it regularly evaluated the progress of national programs. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

The Secretariat also functioned between plenary sessions, and it was the administrative center of the party apparatus. It was elected by the Central Committee to oversee implementation of the Party Program and party resolutions and to select leading cadres. This last function gave the Secretariat nomenklatura, the authority to make appointments to the key positions in both the party and the government bureaucracies.*

The ruling hierarchy was stable during the 1980s. In May 1986, the Political Bureau included seven members and three candidate members. The Secretariat was composed of six secretaries. Batmonh was reelected general secretary of the Central Committee. These elections produced few changes; four leaders were retained as both Political Bureau members and secretaries of the Central Committee. Three leaders were retained as members of only the Political Bureau, and three were elected candidate Political Bureau members. Two new secretaries were elected to the Central Committee. This leadership group, averaging fifty-nine years of age, was changed somewhat at the third plenary session--or fully constituted meeting--of the Central Committee in June 1987, when one Political Bureau member retired and was replaced by a candidate member. By 1989 the Political Bureau had been reduced to nine members after the death of one candidate member. Two Political Bureau members mentioned as likely successors to Batmonh were Bat-Ochiryn Altangerel, a former Ulaanbaatar first secretary, and Tserendeshiyn Namsray, a member of the party Secretariat and chairman of the MongolianSoviet Friendship Society.*

Some party leaders held concurrent key government positions. For example, Batmonh was chairman of the Presidium of the People's Great Hural, and Sodnom was chairman of the Council of Ministers, or premier. All Political Bureau members and candidate members also were deputies to the People's Great Hural. The known substantive responsibilities of the top party leadership covered several specialties: party disciplinary affairs, law and administration, foreign affairs, building and construction, and industry. *

Mass Organizations in Communist-Era Mongolia

Although party-sponsored mass organizations existed for women, laborers, the elderly, and creative artists, the largest mass organization in the late 1980s was the Mongolian-Soviet Friendship Society, established in 1924. With 580,000 members in 1984, the society was chaired by Political Bureau member Namsray, and it included most of the country's prominent leaders. As the name implied, its mission was to strengthen friendly ties and cooperation with the Soviet Union. The society furthered this goal by sponsoring films, exhibits, and lectures and by conducting an annual friendship month celebration preceding the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution on November 7. Another body, the Federation of Mongolian Peace and Friendship Organizations, acted as an umbrella association, serving other international friendship societies. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Like most other professional groups in Mongolian society, journalists were organized into a mass organization. By 1989 the Union of Mongolian Journalists had 800 members, more than half of them formally trained as journalists. Ninety-seven percent of the membership had received higher education. In 1989 the press in Mongolia was undergoing major changes, and the effect of these changes on this body still was unclear. *

There also were "creative unions" to organize writers, artists, and composers. Their main purpose was to ensure that artistic content supported the party's social and political policies. The top leaders of these mass organizations usually served on the party Central Committee. In 1984 the Writers' Union included a sixty-one member committee with seven presiding author-secretaries.*

A newer mass organization, established in 1988, was the Culture Fund of the Mongolian People's Republic. Its purpose was to protect monuments and key examples of Mongol history, literature, and architecture as well as to recover cultural treasures that have been taken out of the country. It was funded by voluntary contributions.*

The attempt to organize segments of the country's population extended to elderly citizens. The Union of Mongolian Senior Citizens was established on March 25, 1988, with 120,000 members. Its purposes were to make the elderly more productive and involved in the country's development as well as to study and to improve the health of the aging. The organization had a chairman, a deputy chairman, a 150-member executive Committee, a 15-member presidium, and a 7-member central auditing committee. An important subcommittee of this mass organization, reflecting the World War II legacy of military service, was the Committee of War Veterans.*

Youth Organizations in Communist-Era Mongolia

The Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League, founded on August 25, 1921, was the party's most important auxiliary. The Party Program describes the organization as the party's "militant assistant and reliable reserve." In 1986 the league had 235,000 members between fifteen and twenty-eight years of age and was a significant element in reinforcing the party ranks and in contributing to social and economic development. A good record as a youth league member was a prerequisite to selection for party membership. Seminars, lectures, and technical schools were run under league sponsorship to raise the ideological, educational, and cultural standards of Mongolian youths. The league also played an active role in preparing youths for service in the armed forces by instilling patriotism and by encouraging participation in reserve training programs to maintain a high level of physical fitness. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

The league structure resembles that of the party, with a Central Committee, a Political Bureau composed of members and candidate members, and a Secretariat. Tserendorjiyn Narangerel, who was sixty-eight in 1989, was elected first secretary of the Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League in 1984. In 1986 he was elected to the party Central Committee and became a deputy in the People's Great Hural. Narangerel's predecessor until 1983 was Lodongiyn Tudev, who became editor-in-chief of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party newspaper, Unen (Truth). In addition to Narangerel, the top league leadership in 1989 included a second secretary and four secretaries. Below the national level, the league included committees led by first secretaries in various-level units that had structures comparable to that of the party. The league belonged to the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the International Union of Students.*

The Sukhe Bator Mongolian Pioneers Organization, named after the revolutionary hero, Damdiny Sukhe Bator, and founded in May 1925, was supervised by the Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League. With a membership, in the late 1980s, of 360,000, it served children ages ten to fifteen. In 1989 its head--and chairman of the Central Council--was concurrently a secretary of the Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League Central Committee. Like the youth league, the Pioneers Organization was meant to involve the children in active work and service in fulfilling party goals. It sponsored rallies focused on labor themes; provided medals for good progress in work and study; and encouraged the ideological, moral, and educational development of children. The organization also hosted sports competitions, art reviews, and festivals. In the summer, the organization operated camps to enhance the physical training and the education of youths. *

Democratic Centralism

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. *

Under the guidance of early party leaders Horloyn Choybalsan and Yumjaagiyn Tsedenbal, the principle of democratic centralism was weighted heavily toward its centralizing features, just as it was being applied in the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. Purges, reprisals, and political violence in Mongolia mirrored the arbitrary behavior of Stalin. Choybalsan directed his attacks against political foes, rivals, and religious institutions. After Choybalsan's death in 1952 and Tsedenbal's emergence as the top party and government leader, Mongolian politics again followed the Soviet example. Starting in 1956, Tsedenbal initiated an extensive anti-Stalinist, anti-Choybalsan campaign, accusing the party leader of having conducted a "cult of personality" like Stalin.*

In 1989, in the latest mirroring of Soviet politics, observers concluded that the democratic aspects of democratic centralism were beginning to play an enhanced role in Mongolian politics. Highly personalized and centralized politics were giving way to increased involvement by more democratic or representative sectors. Party general secretary Batmonh, speaking before the important fifth plenary session of the Central Committee held December 21-22, 1988, emphasized the need for "renewal" of the Mongolian sociopolitical system by "democratizing the party's inner life." Just before the plenary session, in November 1988, Batmonh pointed to the poor performance of the Mongolian economy even under the policies of "renewal," or Soviet-style restructuring. He gave as reasons for this condition a lack of vitality in the Mongolian political system, which, he said, could be remedied only by a more open and free social and political system.*

Batmonh and Mongolian Glasnost and Perestroika

At the December 1988 plenary session, which focused on reform of the political system, Batmonh spoke at length on the Mongolian equivalent of glasnost and perestroika and, for the first time, identified by name his predecessor, Tsedenbal, with the social, economic, and political problems that plagued Mongolia. In addition, Batmonh linked Tsedenbal's shortcomings with the "serious damage" that the personality cult of Choybalsan had caused and charged that "democracy was restricted and the administrative-command method of management took the upper hand." *

Probably with a view to containing the political impact of these provocative statements, Batmonh urged the leadership to recognize these mistakes in leadership in a positive and instructive way. He also laid out the new political course by emphasizing that "a key point to the transformation and renewal" was recognition of the importance of the various levels of assemblies of people's deputies. He said the assemblies' deputies embodied the institutional expression of self-government now regarded as essential to the efficient and effective functioning of the political system. In addition to stressing the importance of these representative bodies, Batmonh exhorted several key mass organizations, particularly the trade unions and the Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League, to play a more active role in "perfecting organizational renewal" by becoming more vocal about issues and more involved in reform programs. Accordingly, democratic reform was to be carried out at all levels--in central and local government bodies, as well as in party, state, and mass organizations. The assemblies of people's deputies and all mass organizations were to be made responsible for "perfecting" the government system by engaging in free dialogue and in criticism and debate of reform issues and programs.*

This speech by Batmonh set the agenda for further party action. The fifth plenary session concluded with the Central Committee's adoption of a seven-point resolution espousing the democratization of the political system. Batmonh discussed the major party reforms involved during an interview reported in the March 1989 issue of the Soviet periodical, New Times. They included: reducing the size of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party membership and giving priority to the primary party organization, the point of contact with the Mongolian population; setting a fixed five-year term of office for elected party bodies, from the Central Committee to the district party committee, and limiting the opportunity to be reelected to one further consecutive term; holding party conferences every two to three years, with the partial--up to 25 percent--replacement of members of party committees; and conducting Political Bureau and Secretariat elections by secret ballot. In general, these party reforms were to contribute to a rejuvenation of party leadership and to democratize internal party politics.*

Batmonh revealed that government reforms being proposed at the fifth plenary session were to emphasize the People's Great Hural and assemblies of people's deputies as the "political basis of the state." He said that a distinction would be more clearly drawn between the functions of party and state organizations. Briefly, party organizations were to make policy decisions, the results of which were to be managed and implemented through government representative bodies. Major government reforms included reducing and streamlining the government bureaucracy; limiting the term in office in any of the representative assemblies to five years, with only one opportunity for reelection; nominating several candidates for an office; and discussing candidate qualifications freely. Following up on the fifth plenary session's initiatives, the Political Bureau proposed developing revisions to both the Party Program and the state Constitution to reflect Batmonh's concerns. In February 1989, a commission was formed to begin drafting a new edition of the state Constitution, to be presented for national discussion by December 1989. Addressing its first meeting, Batmonh asserted that "implementation of restructuring in the country was impossible without perfecting its existing laws, and this matter should be started with a new edition of the . . . Constitution." In addition, a new body was being planned, the Commission for Constitutional Control, to improve adherence to the Constitution. Revisions of the Rules of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party and to the Party Program were to be ready for the Twentieth Party Congress planned for 1991.*

In large measure, Batmonh's efforts to emphasize and to strengthen the democratic features in the political system reflected his responsiveness to precedents set in Moscow. Nevertheless, if implemented, these reforms may have at least the short-term effect of opening debate and allowing more discussion of pressing local issues, a development that might improve the quality of life for Mongolians. Over the long term, the permanence of these "democratic" policies was likely to be related closely to the success or the failure of the ongoing economic programs.*

Batmonh's professional background fits neatly into the mold of the senior Mongolian political leader. He was born in 1926 in Hyargas Somon, Uvs Aymag, in western Mongolia, reportedly to a peasant family of herdsmen. Like his predecessor, Tsedenbal, Batmonh was educated in the Soviet Union, at the Academy of Social Sciences. Typical of past and present members of the party Political Bureau, Batmonh had a strong economic-technical background. He studied at the Mongolian State University, and in the late 1960s he was rector of the Higher School of Economics. From 1963 to 1973, he was vice rector and then rector of the Mongolian State University. Batmonh's political ascent was rapid and remarkable. While serving as head of the Central Committee's Department of Science and Education, he became chairman of the Council of Ministers in June 1974, without first being elected to Political Bureau membership. At that time, he was only a candidate member of the Central Committee. By December 1984, Batmonh was concurrently the party's general secretary, having replaced Tsedenbal in August, and chairman of the Presidium of the People's Great Hural. He thus had control over, and access to, the two governing bureaucracies, securing his place at the center of the political system.*

Sodnom was the second most prominent leader in Mongolia in the late 1980s. Born in 1933 in Orgon Somon, Dornogovi Aymag, Sodnom graduated from the Finance and Economics Technical School in Ulaanbaatar and the Finance and Economics Institute in Irkutsk, Soviet Union. His professional career concentrated on economics and planning. From 1963 to 1969, Sodnom was minister of finance; by 1974 he was chairman of the State Planning Commission. He became a full Political Bureau member and chairman of the Council of Ministers (premier) in December 1984, succeeding Batmonh.*

The backgrounds of others serving on the Political Bureau in 1989 were mixed, but they shared a notable emphasis on economics and state-planning experience. Demchigjabyn Molomjamts, perhaps the third most influential leader, was minister of finance and concurrently held key state planning positions. Altangerel was concurrently the first deputy premier. Colonel General Jamsrangiyn Dejid a former minister of public security, was concurrently a party secretary. Namsray, a former aide to Tsedenbal and a journalist, was elected to the Political Bureau in June 1984, just before Tsedenbal's retirement in August. Candidate Political Bureau members Bandzragchiyn Lamjab and Sonomyn Lubsangombo represented different, but critical, career specialties. Lamjab concurrently served as chairman of the Party Control Commission. Lubsangombo, an urban development specialist, was chairman of the State Building Commission and deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers (or, deputy premier). *

Political Issues in Communist-Era Mongolia

The political leadership style of Batmonh can be described as cautious and pragmatic, and it explains in part why the senior leadership levels in the party have escaped major shake-ups. Under his leadership, the political program had focused on bringing greater productivity, efficiency, and material prosperity to society. Implementing this program, however, had raised certain key political issues of central concern to Batmonh and other top party leaders. One issue had been the performance of the party and government bureaucracies. The official bureaucracy had come under attack for apathy to reform measures and for displays of resistance to their implementation. Another major criticism, often related to those just cited, was that some party and government leaders were considered either unqualified or too inept to understand and to carry out reform programs. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

In attempts to address this issue, party pronouncements have stressed the participation and the accountability of officials at all levels of the bureaucracy. This had been accomplished in some measure at the provincial level by increasing participation of aymag first secretaries on the party Central Committee. Having them serve on this national body included them in the policy debate and made them responsible for, and accountable for, the effective implementation of policies and programs. In 1986 the Central Committee included fourteen of the eighteen first secretaries, as either full or candidate members. Two of the unrepresented aymags actually were represented indirectly by having representatives on the Central Committee who had been elected from the autonomous cities, Darhan and Erdenet, located within those aymags. Two decades earlier, only a few aymag first secretaries served on the party Central Committee.*

In 1989 the change that linked aymag leaders to the national- level leadership probably did not indicate a major decentralization of political power in Mongolia. Official policy still followed precedents set in the Soviet Union that were transmitted by the central party structure. Instead, these "decentralizing" measures appeared to be inspired more by a recognition of the nature of past economic stagnation and failure. They were designed to provide aymag party leaders with a substantial political stake in the regime in order to win their much needed enthusiasm and commitment to the new reformist goals.*

Creative approaches and bold thinking were qualities that the regime espoused to energize its often-complacent bureaucracy. At the Nineteenth Congress in 1986, Batmonh echoed the reformist thrust of Mikhail Gorbachev's speech to the preceding Twentyseventh Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Batmonh stressed that party members needed to "think and work in new ways." He identified as the "chief political result of the supreme forum of Mongolian Communists" (that is, the party congress) the recognition that more attention had to be paid to party ideological and organizational work and "to strengthening inner-party democracy." Batmonh raised similar themes in his key December 1988 plenary session speech. In discussing ideological work within the party bureaucracy, he identified the main task as being "to foster in people a scientific world outlook and further raise their social consciousness."

Developing a program of "renewal and rejuvenation" had precipitated as an issue the question of what should constitute the official view of Mongolian history. Who were the heroes, and who obstructed progress? By late 1988, Tsedenbal, for the first time, was identified with the regime's economic failures because economic stagnation and official dogmatism that stifled growth and creativity flourished during his tenure. The charges leveled against Tsedenbal during this revision of modern Mongolian history also appeared to extend into the emotional area of the fate and the status of indigenous Mongolian cultural institutions and heritage. Calling for a "realistic appraisal" of Tsedenbal's career, Batmonh said "we draw serious conclusions on the acts of destroying historical and cultural monuments, monasteries and temples. But that bitter lesson was not duly considered, and even today a careless attitude to national culture persists." Filling in what have been called "blank spots" in Mongolian history appeared in mid-1989 to extend even to the historical treatment of Chinggis Khan and perhaps can be viewed as one important barometer of political change in Mongolia. Traditionally, the Soviet press had described Chinggis as a "feudal and backward element." By early 1989, the Mongolian press had adopted a more positive view of this historic national figure, a change suggesting that, politically, the Mongolian leadership had begun to move somewhat out from under Soviet political tutelage. *

General Political Values and Attitudes in Soviet-Era Mongolia

The political system became heavily regimented under communism and the organizational principle of democratic centralism. Young and elderly citizens, urban and rural dwellers, skilled and unskilled laborers all had to become fully involved in, and cognizant of, the goals and the ideological content of party programs. Inevitably, the implementation of this political system had provoked a variety of responses. Mongolians, now middle-aged and older, who by 1959 had experienced collectivization and were deprived of their animal herds and the freedom to roam in search of new pastures, harbored resentment against the government's procedures and limitations on their erstwhile freedoms. Any outright opposition was put down quickly, but negative feelings probably have not been eradicated.*

Support for the regime existed, and it was likely to continue in the 1990s among those with the greatest stake in the success of its policies--for example, party and government cadres, economists, and technocrats. The earlier sovietization of politics and society, and the role of officials in that process, had given this group an elevated status, but with the concomitant requirement that they exhort the people to uphold the preferred values of conformity and political orthodoxy at the expense of more traditional values and spontaneity. Improvements in communications and transportation as well as the opportunities for reaching a larger audience afforded by increased literacy have permitted the communist regime and its cadres more immediate contact with the populace. By the 1980s, there were no more mass political purges, but the state machinery had become more efficient and pervasive in organization. Its political influence was deeply felt throughout the country. How this system would fare under the reformist policies of openness and democratization could not be assessed in mid-1989.*

Reportedly, some resistance to this method of rule--from Mongolian youths who were better-educated, aware that change was occurring, and anxious that even greater openness be permitted-- was becoming evident. Politically, they seemed to advocate extending the trend toward democratization. They viewed democracy more as a human right than as a means for improving the political system and its policies, by such methods as encouraging public criticism of cadre incompetence, poor management practices, and so forth. Youth demands also may have been shared by the artistic community and by some members of the intelligentsia. The latter, while saluting the de-Stalinization campaign ongoing in 1989, also may have wanted a more extensive reappraisal of Mongolian culture and its heroes. It was difficult to assess how deep these feelings were, but observers doubted that they represented any immediate threat to the regime's stability. *

Local Government in Mongolia

Administrative divisions: 21 provinces (aymguud, singular - aymag.aimag) and 1 municipality (singular - hot). The 21 provinces: Arhangay, Bayanhongor, Bayan-Olgiy, Bulgan, Darhan-Uul, Dornod, Dornogovi, Dundgovi, Dzavhan (Zavkhan), Govi-Altay, Govisumber, Hentiy, Hovd, Hovsgol, Omnogovi, Orhon, Ovorhangay, Selenge, Suhbaatar, Tov,*, Uvs. The one municipality is Ulaanbaatar. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Local government members are not directly elected. Rather deputies are elected by voters. They meet in the aimag capital to select the governor and local mayors. The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP, the former Communist Party) still holds power in the majority of Mongolia’s provincial governorships. The aimags are divided into somons, each with an administrative center that is used to keep tabs over co-ops and herders. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

In the Soviet era Mongolia was organized into 18 provinces (aimags or aymacs) three municipalities (hots, Ulaanbaatar, Darhan and Erdenet) and ten country administrative units called sumun (somons or soms), each with it own Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party organization, which directed work of local assemblies, cooperatives, and government on its level. *

Local Government Defined by the Mongolia Constitution

Chapter Four of the Mongolian Constitution on the Administrative and Territorial Units of Mongolia and their Governing Bodies reads: Article Fifty seven: 1) The territory of Mongolia shall be divided administratively into Aimags and a capital city; Aimags shall be subdivided into Soums; Soums into Baghs; the capital city shall be subdivided into District and Districts into Khoroos 2) The legal status of towns and villages within the administrative and territorial units shall be determined by law. 3) Revision of an administrative and territorial unit shall be considered and decided by the State Ikh Khural on the basis of a proposal by a respective local Khural and local citizens, and with account taken of the country's economic structure and the distribution of the population.

Article Fifty eight: 1) Aimag, the capital city, Soum and District are administrative, territorial and socioeconomic complexes with their functions and administrations provided for by law. 2) Borders of Aimags, the capital city, Soums and Districts shall be approved by the State Ikh Khural on the Government submission.

Article Fifty nine: 1) Governance of administrative and territorial units of Mongolia shall be organized on the basis of a combination of the principles of both self-governance and central government. 2) The self-governing bodies in Aimag, capital city, Soum and District shall be Khurals of Representatives of the citizens of respective territories; in Bagh and Khoroo they shall be Public Meetings of citizens. In between the sessions of the Khurals and Public Meetings their Presidiums shall assume administrative functions. 3) Khurals of Aimags and the capital city shall be elected for a term of four years. The membership of these Khurals as well as those of Soums and Districts and the procedure of their election shall be determined by law.

Article Sixty: 1) State authority shall be exercised on the territories of Aimags, the capital city, Soums, Districts, Baghs and Khoroos by their respective Governors. 2) Candidates for Governors are nominated by the Khurals of respective Aimags, the capital city, Soums, Districts, Baghs and Khoroos. Governors of Aimags and the capital city are appointed by the Prime Minister; Governors Soum and District by the Governors of Aimags and the capital city; Governors of Baghs and Khoroos by the Governors of Soums and Districts respectively for a term of four years. 3) In case the Prime Minister and Governors of higher levels refuse to appoint the gubernatorial candidates, new nominations shall be held in the manner prescribed in Paragraph 2 of this Article. Pending the appointment of a new Governor the previously appointed Governor shall exercise his/her mandate.

Article Sixty one: l. While working for the implementation of the decisions of a respective Khural, a Governor, as a representative of State authority, shall be responsible to the Government and the Governor of higher instance for proper observance of national laws and fulfillment of the decisions of the Government and the respective superior body in his/her territory. 2) The Governor shall have a right to veto decisions of respective Aimag, capital city, Soum, District, Bagh and Khoroo Khurals. 3) If a Khural by a majority vote overrides the veto, the Governor may tender his/her resignation to the respective Khural, Prime Minister or to the Governor of higher instance if he/she considers that he/she is not able to implement the decision concerned. 4. Governors of Aimag, the capital city, Soum and District shall have secretariats (Offices of the Seal). The Government shall determine the structure and staff limit of these offices individually or by a uniform standard.

Article Sixty two: 1) Local self-governing bodies besides making independent decisions on matters of socioeconomic life of the respective Aimag, the capital city, Soum, District, Bagh and Khoroo shall organize the participation of the population in solving problems of national scale and that of higher territorial units. 2) Authorities of higher instance shall not take decision on matters coming under the jurisdiction of local self-governing bodies. If law and decisions of respective superior state organs do not specifically deal with definite local matters, local self-governing bodies can decide upon them independently in conformity with the Constitution. 3) If the State Ikh Khural and the Government deem it necessary they may delegate some matters within their power to the Aimag and capital city Khurals and Governors for their resolution.

Article Sixty three: 1) Khurals of Aimag, the capital city, Soum, District, Bagh and Khoroo shall adopt resolutions and Governors shall issue ordinances within their power. 2) Resolutions of the Khurals and ordinances of the Governors shall be in conformity with law, Presidential decrees and decisions of the Government and other superior bodies, and shall be binding within their respective territories. 3) Administrative and territorial units, and the power, organization and procedure of their governing bodies shall be determined by law.

Local Administration in the Soviet Era

In Mongolia's organizational pyramid, government beneath the national level was carried out by assemblies of people's deputies operating in the eighteen aymags and the three provinciallevel autonomous cities (hots), sometimes called "republic cities." In the late 1980s, each aymag continued to be divided into about thirty somons; towns and population centers within a somon were apportioned into "districts and districts-in-cities." Each of these administrative divisions had its corresponding governing assembly of people's deputies. Some continuity between the Mongolian People's Republic and the traditional Mongolian political culture was provided in preserving the terms aymag, which was a fifteenth-century word for a tribal unit, and somon, which was the traditional basic-level administrative unit (see Pastoral Nomadism). Aymags were established on the basis of geographic boundaries, ethnic groupings, economic conditions, population density, and convenience of administrative control. Somons were the basic units of administration within aymags, and they were where the greatest interaction between government and the people took place. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Deputies to the local assemblies are elected for three-year terms, according to the Constitution. In June 1987, a total of 15,967 deputies were elected to local assemblies, by the usual 99.98 percent of the vote cast. Regular sessions of aymag and autonomous municipal assemblies convened at least twice a year. Sessions of somon and district assemblies were convoked at least three times a year. Each local assembly elected presidiums to administer the government between sessions of the assemblies. Presidiums were composed of a chairman, a deputy chairman, a secretary, and members who included party functionaries and local luminaries residing in the administrative centers.*

Within their respective jurisdictions, the assemblies and their presidiums were responsible for directing "economic and cultural-political construction," for supervising the economic and cooperative organizations, for confirming and implementing the economic plan and local budgets, for ensuring the observance of laws, and for making certain that all citizens were fully involved in the work of the state. Superior assemblies of people's deputies were empowered to "change or repeal" decisions of lower assemblies and their presidiums.*

Procurators and courts also functioned at the local levels. Local procurators were appointed by the state procurator for three-year terms, and they were subordinate "only to the superior procurator" in the system. Courts were elected by deputies of the corresponding assemblies of people's deputies, also for threeyear terms; precinct-level courts were formed by direct elections and by secret ballot for three-year terms. *

Regional and Local Party Organizations

A general understanding of the size of the party structure below the national level was provided by reports in January 1981 that recorded "twenty-seven provincial, town and equivalent-level party committees, seven urban district party committees, 256 basic-level committees, and 2,600 party cells." In March 1989, Batmonh noted that there were 3,199 primary party organizations, or cells. Party first secretaries of aymags and those of the three autonomous cities, usually were represented on the Central Committee. In addition to their key party organizational responsibilities, these regional leaders had the important duty to implement the party's economic policies and programs within the areas under their supervision. In fact, active participation in the current party programs emphasizing economic development was regarded as essential to the regional leaders' success; this probably explained their participation on the Central Committee. Two other key posts, probably equal in rank to aymag first secretaries, were held by leading party representatives in the state Railroad Administration and the army's Political Directorate. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Aymag-level and somon-level party organizations are formed by election of the conferences of representatives within the respective jurisdictions. These committees control the executive and the legislative institutions of government as well as economic enterprises. Meeting in plenary sessions at least twice a year, the committees' regular daily business is conducted by an elected bureau of seven to nine members. Bureau meetings are held once or twice every fourteen days to hear reports and recommendations, to discuss implementation of higher-level decisions, to coordinate and to assign cadres' work, to approve acceptance of candidate members, to assign cadres to non-party organs in territorial units, to provide leadership to party cells and to evaluate their achievements and shortcomings, and to maintain party discipline within various subordinate organizations.*

The party cell is considered the primary party organization. Every party member has to belong to a cell. These bodies exist in industrial enterprises; agricultural cooperatives; state farms; and educational, cultural, and other establishments. Cells are formed from not fewer than eight party members or candidates for membership. The cell's responsibilities include recruitment of party members, training and ideological development of the membership, and party discipline. When there are fewer than eight members to be organized, a party section is formed; it has responsibilities similar, insofar as possible, to those of the party cell.

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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