The UB Post, the most widely read of two English-language newspapers in Mongolia, has recently published an article entitled “Why this Election Matters” by Michelle T. While addressing a number of topics, my research on the election process, campaigns,and foreign interests was featured prominently with direct mention to myself as well as this website: www.miliatematters.com. Furthermore, several topics of additional concern were also mentioned including the 20% quota for women in the Parliament (Улсын Их Хурал). Michelle has also done some research on the LGBT movement and recently interviewed the Director of the LGBT Centre. I look forward to reading more of her articles in the future. As a side note, I also recently did a live televised interview with Shuud TV, in Mongolian no less. Luckily for me, no video available!
For the link to the article mentioned above, please go to: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/index.php/community/88888940-community-top/7416-why-this-election-is-important
For another excellently done article on Mongolian elections, check this out: http://world.time.com/2012/06/28/mongolias-election-voters-go-to-the-polls-with-countrys-mineral-wealth-at-stake/
For Dr. Julian Dierkes’ posting on the beginning of election observation activities in Mongolia please find the following link:
For my post on the closing activities and most likely result visit:
Increasing clear that the Democratic Party has won a majority of seats. No signs of unrest at this time. Hoping for a smooth end and turnover. More posts tomorrow on the formal results and possible implications. In the meantime follow my twitter feed @Miliatasana (https://twitter.com/Miliateasana).
Julian and I have just returned from the Democratic Party Rally in Yarmagt, Han-Uul District where the party’s two Parliamentary candidates L. Bold and Ts. Oyuungerel as well as E. Bat-Uul, running for UB Parliament, made speeches in support of the party and their campaigns. The rally provided interesting insights into the last couple days of campaigning.
My general sense was that even after 20 years on the Mongolian political scene, the DP still uses its status as the “new guys in town” to draw distinctions between itself and the MPP. They still seem to see themselves as the new and distinctly modern party. Directly related to this “newness” was reference to the DP as corruption-free, fighting for a corruption-free Ulaanbaatar and country. Also tied to this so-called modernity is the clear reference to Western-style democracies, namely the United States of America. During the introductions of Bold and Oyuungerel, the announcer made particular mention of their US education as a sign of their legitimacy to lead. Furthermore, L. Bold himself made a bold statement by telling the audience that Mongolia had two choices in this important intersection in its political and economic development: 1) the Chinese path; 2) the American path. This was in reference not only to the country’s economic development model, but also to human rights and liberty. The DP is promising a “Mongolian Dream” (paralleling the “American Dream”) whereby the people have the ability to achieve their wants, needs, and aspirations. The central DP central slogan comes to life when the speakers proclaimed that Mongolians want to “live like a (real) person and develop like a (real) country” (Хүн шиг амьдрмаар байна, Улс шиг хөгжимөөр байна!). The people’s thoughts and ideas are the party's thoughts/ideas, and their dreams are the DP's dreams, or so we were told.
Surprisingly, both the rally and the general meet-and-greet that preceded it brought up a topic that I not previously considered a pressing political issue: land rights. This surprisingly hot-button issue may mark a key distinction between the MPP and DP. The MPP seems to be more interested in working as quickly as possible to re-organize and in some cases replace the ger districts as well the quickly developing regions near Zaisan Monument (Зайсан Цогцолбор). The DP is running on a platform of protecting individual land rights and even extending rights to ger district citizens so as to allow a market driven resolution that benefits as many people as possible without the state forcing anyone’s hand. Admittedly, this is not an issue that I have any experience in, and I did not expect this issue to come up since it has not made it into any of the elections materials that I have seen. Clearly, it is an area for further thought, and perhaps further blog posts.
The proceedings of the rally where rather standard, with the obligatory cheers and whistling, politicians followed by such cultural icons as actor Amaraa and a rather amusing character in a bright orange deel. Held near the airport, both Julian Dierkes and myself where delighted by the clean air full of the uniquely characteristic smell of the Mongolian countryside. The rally was attended by approximately 500 people, presumably mostly from the ger district across the street. Interestingly enough, the event included a parachuter and concluded with a full on fireworks show. These seemed rather poorly planned and distracted from the the candidates themselves, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it anyways. All in all, a seemingly successful rally that proved very informative on DP strategy.
I remember being shocked during my first trip to Mongolia in 2008 when walking along Peace Avenue, I saw a car belong to the unofficial political group/gang Blue Mongol (Хөх Монгол) sporting a prominent and rather taboo swastika. After asking around, I learned that this was one of several ultra-nationalists groups to be found in UB. At the same time, graffitti on various walls through the city featuring a swastika with the initials М.Ү.Н. (Монгол Үндесний Нам/Mongolian National Party) was readily visible to even the most inattentive observer. In 2009, such vandalism and the same Blue Mongol car could be spotted almost daily, and I remember hearing news reports of Chinese business men attacked, Korean tourists beat, and Mongolian women having their head shaved as punishment for dating a foreign (i.e. Chinese) man. Still other cars and vans with similar messages started popping up, and in the center of the city one could readily spot groups of young men with the tell-tell tattoos and hairstyles readily associated with ultra-nationalist gangs. In the same year, the BBC featured a couple of stories on another nationalist group, Даяар Монгол (roughly translated, Worldwide Mongolians). In 2010, not much had changed. However, as I was telling this story to friends, they asked what the situation was today and I realized an important development: not only have I seen far less М.Ү.Н. tagging, nor have I seen more than a couple of (admittedly hastely profiled) nationalists, I have not once seen that notorious Blue Mongol car that started my casual observations on this topic 5 years ago.
My feeling is that the visibility of such groups have declined in the past couple years, and perhaps some of their political activities have been checked by the authorities to ensure a secure environment for the upcoming elections. At the same, less visibility does not mean the end to xenophobic voilence. Random attacks against foreign business men and women, NGO workers, and so on are still to be heard, and anti-Chinese statements make up a significant proportion of graffitti. So, the question remains: What happened to the visibility of such groups? Have they spintered apart as such de facto gangs are prone to do? Do they lack any larger support structors to maintain themselves? Obviously these questions are not easy to answer, but the observations above might have a lot to say all on their own.
The upcoming elections are forcing people to step back and evaluate the results of Mongolia’s unprecedented economic development over the past couple years. Last year Mongolia’s economy grew 17.3% in 2011 and there is little signs of this growth slowing down in the foreseeable future. With huge mineral reserves throughout the country, including the now infamous Oyuu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi mines, the question is no longer “Will Mongolia develop?” it is “How will Mongolia develop?” or perhaps more to the point “Who will benefit from Mongolia’s development?” Perhaps the Democratic Party’s slogan, Олуулаа Хөгжих үү, Цөөхүүл нь xөлжих үү (Will many develop or will just a few get rich?) is the best representation of what is currently on the minds of the Mongolian people.
In Europe and the US we are increasingly torn over the utility of re-disbursement and whether there is any truth in the so-called trickle-down-effect. While this question is certainly pertinent to Mongolia as well, there is also an interesting twist: the scapegoat to the South, better known as China. Anyone that has ever looked at Mongolian politics or society, even casually, has undoubtable noticed that Mongolians seem culturally inclined to be wary of China and often perceive numerous Chinese threats. In this article, I would like to explore the fears that Mongolians hold toward China regarding territorial integrity/sovereignty and national survival. Regardless of China's recognition of Mongolian independence and huge economic ties between the two countries, fears of national survival continue to be a key point of concern for some Mongolians.
As a small country situated between giants (The Russian Federation and the Peoples' Republic of China), sovereignty and territorial integrity are very real security concerns. In 1691, the territory of Mongolia was completely absorbed into the Qing Dynasty, in 1911 Outer Mongolia declared its independence, and following the 1921 communist revolution the country stood firmly in the USSR sphere of influence. Since the 1990 Democratic Revolution, Mongolia has designed its core foreign policy and security interests in terms of neutrality, balance, and survival. Mongolia has declared itself official neutral should a conflict arise between Russia and China, and does not allow either country to have any military posts in its territory. By maintaining strict neutrality, Mongolia is ensuring that neither China nor Russia should perceive a strategic advantage to controlling Mongolia; the advantages of buffer statehood, you might say. By ensuring balance not only between Russia and China, but also ensuring good relations with the US, Japan, EU, South Korea, and other nations/institutions outside of its geography- the Third Neighbor Policy- Mongolia is able to ensure that its foreign policy and security ties are not limited to Russia and China. This is all in the context of national survival and ensuring Mongolia's continued sovereignty and independence.
The Mongolian understanding of security and survival is not limited to the strictly political. Rather, Mongolians have been concerned with their survival as a distinct people and ensuring that so-called pure Mongolians continue to dominate the political and demographic landscape. While some aspects of these concerns might be shared by almost all states as a result of globalization (which, admittedly, remains a rather vague notion at best), many aspects of Mongolia's concern seems distinct to its status as a small state with a small population. Maintaining a distinctly Mongolian ethnic group is as much about political survival as it is about cultural survival.
Nobody wants to turn into the next Inner Mongolia. Tibetans and Uighurs have pointed to Inner Mongolia as their potential future if they do not receive more protection for their rights, customs, and language. Inner Mongolia is a nightmare-type situation for Tibetans, Uighurs, and Mongolians in Mongolia-proper for many reasons: the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region's (IMAR) population is less than 15% Mongolian; is dominated by Han Chinese migrants; and, many Mongolians in the IMAR no longer speak their native language. The purpose of this post is not to reveal the situation in the IMAR, but rather to point out that Mongolians in Mongolia itself, perceive a chance that they might one day be in a similar situation to Inner Mongolia. What is more revealing, perhaps, is that fact that opinion in Mongolia seems to be split between two rival camps: Those that don't consider Inner Mongolians to be real Mongolians; and those that want to support their Mongolian brothers across the border.
The phrase Цэвер Монгол (Pure Mongolian) seems to come up in more and more conversations I have, but it has quickly become clear that the exact meaning changes between different users. For example, Халх Монголчууд or Khalkha Mongolians might often refer to themselves as the only pure-Mongols. Alternatively, any Mongolian “tribe” in Mongolia-proper might say that they are pure-Mongols, while those living in Russia (Бурят/Халмаг, Buryat/Khalmyk) and the IMAR might be impure in some undefined way. One sure fire way to not be цэвер монгол is to come from a 100% Mongolian family. The word эрлийз (hybrid) is the politically incorrect word of choice for many Mongolians when referring to someone that is only a fraction Mongolian by blood. The worst option, of course, is to be ½ Han Chinese. Not only are such people not pure-Mongol, they are representative of the kind of extinction that the fanatical hyper-nationalist Mongolian mind has nightmares about.
Returning to my original question at the start of writing this post: How does this factor into politics/elections and are the candidates responding to it? While answering this question will require further research, the simple way out is to say “its complicated”/ “that’s a good question.” Indeed, for a casual blog post that might be enough. Still I will venture some insights here. First and foremost, we must remember that Mongolia has an extremely low population of just over 3 million people. While some 6 million Mongols live in the IMAR, these peoples are often judged to be over Sinified and, therefore, not цэвер монгол. So, if we accept that only Mongolians in Mongolia are actually true Mongols, then we are left with a population of only 3,179, 997 potential Mongols. Of course, roughly 5% of that population is Kazakh-Mongol, and another 5% are not Khalkha. For the purposes of this blog post lets just assume that all Mongolians in Mongolia can be considered, at minimum, pure enough. So, 3,018,147 pure Mongolians. Mongolian nationalists, even those that we might call moderate, fell that is their 3 million up against some 1.2 billion Han Chinese. If accept at face value that China is a threat to Mongolian sovereignty, then the odds hardly seemed stacked in their favor.
Historical memory (as opposed to hard historical fact) potentially play a major role in oft-stated concerns about the potential extinction of the Mongolian race. Indeed, when Mongolia was part of the Qing Empire- a time referred to in Mongolian as Манжийн дарлалт/Manchu Oppression- the Mongolian population greatly decreased. With the establishment of an independent “Outer Mongolia” and the establishment of the communist People’s Republic of Mongolia, the population increased as living standards evolved. What we see day, seems to be a continuation of the similar fears. After its colonial experience in the Qing Empire, and its satellite-nation-type relationship with the USSR, today’s Mongolia is determined to maintain as much sovereignty as it can as a small state.
Mongolia’s particular type of ethnic nationalism is tied directly to small statehood and fears of survival as a state and people. It is distinct from American “white supremacy”, Chinese nationalism, or Russia’s skinhead gangs. American “white supremacy” is based on notion of racial superiority; Chinese nationalism is more directly tied to its status as a rising power in confrontation with US hegemony; and Russian skinheads seem to be a mix of racial superiority, confrontation with the international system, and general criminal behavior. Mongolian nationalist groups, on the other hand, have convinced themselves that their people are in danger of disappearing in a state that is economically tied to China, and a population to small to resist a perceived influx of Chinese migration. I propose then, that we treat our study of Mongolian nationalism as uniquely connected to small statehood. While the “Third Neighbor Policy” might mitigate Chinese influence in Mongolian politics, it has been unable to avoid a simple fact: China is the largest market for Mongolian goods. As such, the PRC is by far Mongolia’s largest trading partner, and avoiding some Chinese presence in the country is essentially impossible, if Mongolia wants to develop further. Russia remains less problematic, probably due to ethnic differences, but also due to a slightly more positive experience under Soviet Union servitude.
Having presented a condensed argument, let me say, in a normative fashion, that I do not support Mongolian nationalism. Indeed, it is a dangerous development that should be addressed before it gets out of control. I do not think that Mongolians are in danger of becoming Sinified, and find assertions of a huge influx of Chinese migration to be overstated at best, and completely fabricated at worst. Such nationalist groups as Даяар Монгол and Хөх Монгол have been known to harass and attack Chinese people in Ulaanbaatar, and will even target Mongolian women that have chosen to date a Chinese man. While Chinese are often targeted first, Korean and Japanese citizens as well as some Americans have also been targeted. Mongolian nationalism (perhaps all hyper-nationalists movements) is about control. They claim the right to control Mongolian women's bodies by demanding that they produce pure-Mongolian children; they attack LGBT Mongolians for not doing having children and not staying in line with arcane notions of Mongolian masculinity; they declare all Chinese (or all Koreans, or all Japanese, depending on the group) to be responsible for crimes committed by individuals. For example, I was told by a teacher, who normally seems to be more liberal in her thought, that since some Koreans have abused Mongolian women that the whole lot must be dangerous. Naturally, my argument that Mongolia's criminals do not entail that the whole population of Mongols are thugs did not go over so well. Despite the morally unjust nature of hyper-nationalism (as opposed to simple national pride, which is a positive thing), I find it more productive for now to approach the topic with a level of academic unbiased inquiry, so as to identify trends without the haze of moral disgust. Linking nationalism and small statehood seems to logically add up, and I look forward to addressing it more in the future.
I have just returned from Mongolia’s MSM (Men who have sex with Men) Forum 2012 and feel driven to share a little bit of what I learned there as well as what I have learned from some 5 years of interaction with the Mongolian LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community. While this post is by no means comprehensive, it does reveal some important points and recommendations. I feel honored at having had the opportunity to witness the growing strength of various organizations as the LGBT community in Mongolia strives to achieve some level of equality.
Situation and Progress
In 2010, the first distinctly LGBT-rights oriented NGO opened in Ulaanbaatar. After several years of fighting with the authorities over whether the term LGBT was appropriate in Mongolia, the success of the Centre is just one example of what I perceive to be the growing political and social awareness of the LGBT community in Ulaanbaatar. When I first came to Ulaanbaatar in June 2008, the LGBT rights movement was just starting to take shape, and always under the guise of another more “culturally acceptable” mission. Of course, we must question this idea that a gay identity in Mongolia is not culturally accurate. Indeed, the minute any one Mongolian takes on such an identity, we can say that the label is culturally accurate. The Mongolians that identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are no less Mongolian than the straight guy across the street. But, returning to our main topic, in 2008 the only organizations that provided any type of services to the LGBT community were nominally HIV/AIDS NGOs. Funded by international donor organizations, such as UNDP and UNAIDS, three principle NGOs emerged, each with a distinct and mutually complimenting mission statement: Хамтдаа Төв (Together Centre) provides free HIV testing as well as medications for HIV+ Mongolians; Дэмжих Төв (Support Centre) provided supporting services such as counseling and social events for Mongolians to learn more about HIV/AIDS prevention; and, Залуус Эрүүл Мэнд Төв (Youth for Health) is specifically geared towards providing education services to youth on issues related to sexual health, etc. Together with the newly opened ЛГБТ Төв (LGBT Centre), these four organizations represent the new core of the LGBT community.
While HIV/AIDS is certainly a pressing issue for the Mongolian population and the Gay/MSM population in particular, there are many other concerns that Mongolia’s LGBT citizens encounter every day. Discrimination is a huge problem, with homophobia and hate crimes increasing every year. LGBT Mongolians do not meet the social concepts of what a man or woman should be. Additionally, by not marrying and giving birth to new Mongolians they fail to support their nation. (See my post on Ethnic Nationalism and Small State Survival). For these and other reasons, the Mongolian LGBT population encounters many problems, making the implementation of an Anti-Discrimination Law a key goal of the newly established LGBT Centre. That said, we should be careful not to assume that every story is sad, for there are successes to be found next to every set back. First of all, the fact the LGBT Centre could be opened at all is a huge step forward to be celebrated as a groundbreaking achievement in the start of a new movement. There are stories of personal triumph as well, that should not be ignored. For example, when my best Mongol friend came out to his mother, she happily exclaimed “Ah, now I have a new daughter!” At the Forum, two participants said that their parents guessed their sexual orientation and had no problems. Of course, such stories might be the norm, but it is still a sign of progress, to be sure.
Forum and Recommendations
The MSM Forum 2012 also reveals some insights into the changes taking place in today’s Mongolia. The Forum opened with a review of the recommendations that came out of last year’s forum and how the “Big-Four” NGOs have acted on these recommendations. The primary recommendation to come out of last year’s Forum seemed to be a demand for more research programs. In response, polls were taken to gauge condom usage, and other health saving measures. Strikingly, only 48% of those polled reported always using a condom in the past 6 months! Admittedly, this poll is a little limited since I did not note whether is meant only penetrative sex, or included oral. Additionally, no distinction was made between informal liaisons and long-term relationships. Despite these issues, 48% remains a daunting statistic, and I hope to see it grow significantly in coming years. The rest of the conference/retreat was taken up with some additional lectures on LGBT rights, terminology, and STD prevention.
I would like to conclude this overarching post with some recommendations of my own.
1. MSM vs. LGBT: As stated earlier, many LGBT-focused NGOs receive the bulk of their funding for HIV/AIDS prevention activities and as such are perhaps justified in their MSM/Gay-centric approach. At the conference itself, the representative from the LGBT Centre explained the MSM focus by saying that LBT issues are different and must be handled differently. While this is very true, I would recommend that some pan-LGBT Forum be planned in addition to orientation-specific activities. Yes, queer women have a host of other concerns since homophobia is often combined with chauvinistic sexism; and the transgender community is perhaps the most marginalized in some respects. Still, it seems to me that being able to work under an inclusive sexual minority, rainbow-colored umbrella would strengthen the work of all those concerned. Rather than drawing a line in the sand between each letter in LGBT, lets recognize that many of the concerns we face have the same root causes: strict gender assumptions and incorrect ideas on homosexuality in general.
2. Inclusiveness beyond LGBT: Beyond the forum, it might benefit the overall LGBT movement to be involved with other social movements that at first glance might not seem related, but in reality share similar goals. For example, the NGOs mentioned above might team up with groups fighting alcoholism. The Forum, itself provides an example of how this issue does indeed matter to the LGBT community. Despite an outwardly strict no-alcohol policy, many of the participants spent the night drinking. This upset the attending international donors as well as the Mongolian planners, and for this reason it might deserve some attention. Of course, Mongolia is not special in this case, for alcoholism and drug use also plague the LGBT communities of the US, Canada, and other countries. At the forum, I noted that some attention was paid to the alcoholism, but I would like to see more movement on this front in the future. The fact that drug and alcohol use are also tied to unsafe sex makes this all the pertinent. Of course, we need not stop at alcohol. Homophobia is tied to ideas of gender, and so its shares root causes with such sensitive issues as the abuse of women (physical abuse, rape, sexual harassment, etc.). The tie to nationalism is also important, and I for one would be happy to see a united front against Neo-Nationalist gangs. While care must be taken not to weaken the LGBT-focus of the organizations’ work, networking and aiming for mutual-support might be able to strengthen the overall cause and ultimately help Mongolian societal development.
3. A Refined Guest List: I get the impression that this Forum was more focused on having as many attendees as possible then on inviting people that may one day be the new leaders of the community. I completely agree that it is important to get a good sample of opinions and be open to the ideas as many people as possible. However, I recommend that the Forum be turned into, or be complimented by a Leadership Retreat for NGO workers, volunteers, as well as invited guests. It should not be a free opportunity to go to the countryside and relax. You might have an application process by which people fill out an application stating their goals and ideas of the retreat, and then the various concerned parties can pick those applicants that have the most potential to be important, leading members of the community. The University of Southern California’s LGBT Resource Center’s Annual Generation-Queer Retreat might be a good example of how to organize an LGBT Leadership retreat.
These recommendations, are just recommendations. They are not necessarily the most appropriate to Mongolian circumstances. Still, they certainly have some value and deserve some careful thought. The most important piece of advice that I can offer is that the Mongolian LGBT movement stays on its own path addressing Mongolia-specific concerns. In previous publications by some NGOs, I noted a lot of pictures from the USA Gay Rights Movement. While historical movements are certainly important, the Mongolian LGBT community should focus on its own history, accomplishments, and pit-falls to avoid being labeled as Western-influenced, foreign idea. People should never have to ask: Are there gay people in Mongolia?
The American LGBT community primarily supports the Democratic Party, and many LGBT people support other liberal parties. Interestingly enough, I have not seen any party in Mongolia specifically address LGBT issues, nor does the LGBT community seem to affiliated with any one party. In future posts, I might explore this in more detail, but for now I just want to end with this casual observation. Expect updates later.
I have been in Ulaanbaatar for about 3 weeks now and from some informal conversations with teachers, past advisors, and friends I have come up with some general, almost anecdotal, observations. While these are not through in depth study or surveys, I have relied on several Mongolian-language news articles in addition to other more casual conversations. Take them with a grain of salt, but not so much so as to retain water.
1. The Mongolian People’s Party is in a bit of an identity crisis. The change in name from the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (Монгол Ардын Хувсгалт Нам) to the Mongolian Peoples Party (Монгол Ардын Нам) is just one example of how the MPP is increasingly torn between tradition and reform. Just after the official candidates were announced, but before they were required to register in their respective voting districts, PM Batbold wished his party good luck, stressing two things in particular. Firstly, that this is a party with certain traditions and that they would stand by those traditions. Secondly, that despite this strong connection to heritage and tradition, the MPP was also a new party with new ideas and new policies to put forward.
I can't help but recall the old nickname that the MPP had, back when it was still the MPRP: Ах Нам (The Big-Brother Party). This was the traditional party that led Mongolia for over 60 years, this age and experience made them not only trustworthy but inherently respectable as the elders of the nation. Today’s MPP has to appeal to two very different electorates: the older supporters who will stand by their party based on tradition and perhaps some idealized, nostalgic memory of the old-communist system; and, Mongolia’s younger voters, who are going to look for a fresh political agenda to support their interests. It seems to me that these two groups have interests that are not easy to effectively co-address. Still, the MPP recognizes that it must begin to appeal to the new demographic reality of the country. Another side of this uncomfortable position between tradition and reform is apparent in the creation of a new political party, using the MPP’s old name: The Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, originally lead by Enkhbayar, but now focusing on some other, less scandalized politicians in coalition with the Mongolian National Democratic Party (МYАН: Монгол Үндесний Арчилсан Нам). Indeed, the MPRP-MCDP coalition's slogan, Шударга ес (with possible translations being justice, fairness, and loyalty), challenges the MPP’s claim to tradition.
As a more general note, I will say that in the center of the city the MPP seems to dominate the skyline, with far more campaign posters, billboards, and banners; however, as you leave the center of the city, they are casually overtaken by the DP. One Mongolian friend mentioned that this was because the center of the city has historically been strongly democratic and the periphery more MPP-leaning, so the more materials the weaker the party is in that section of town. This is a casual observation, but useful when trying to get a more general feel of the election.
2. Support for Enkhbayar in Ulaanbaatar is limited, despite disproportionate international concern. I have yet to talk to a single Mongolian, who is unhappy with the arrest of N. Enkhbayar. While it is imperative that we wait until the results of a fair trail to make the final judgment, no one I have talked to so far thinks he is innocent. Indeed, politicians as rich as Enkhbayar and his family rarely are very clean. However due to an excellently managed and funded PR campaign (Хар PR, depending on who you talk to) Enkhbayar has managed to convince an international audience that his arrest is completely politically motivated and that it is a sign of the crumbling of Mongolian democracy. I argue otherwise. Instead, I say that the ability to pass an Anti-Corruption Law and organize an Anti-Corruption Agency capable of going after the usually untouchable ex-politicians is a sign that Mongolia’s democracy has never been so strong. The trial will ultimately be conducted according to nation-wide standards in line with the legal code of the country. In this way, I find this issue to be ultimately up to the Mongolian people and am disturbed by the international press and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s support for such an unpopular politician.
3. Ultimately, elections everywhere are about legitimacy. Mongolia’s political legitimacy will be largely based on how the government manages Mongolia’s unprecedented growth and whether everyone will be able to enjoy the benefits of this growth. In reality, any government, whether democracy, or autocracy, or authoritarian must be able to deliver “the goods”. China’s Communist Party’s legitimacy is wrapped up in it ability to develop and lead the country; Putin’s support network is based on a huge increase in the quality of life across Russia and simply being better than his predecessor, Yeltsin.
Yet, democracies have the additional concern of making sure that they can address almost every concern their constituency might have. Keeping this in mind, Mongolian political legitimacy will be based not only on developing the country, but also whether or not the government can manage the growth in a way that benefits as many Mongolian’s as possible. In the city elections, for example, major voter concerns are going to be air quality, the beautification of the city, traffic/infrastructure, and the ger districts. In the national elections, more general concerns will probably dominate the political agenda, with mining policy a likely key factor. A look at the main political slogans also revels some interesting insights. Both main parties are using a slogan that revels that they see their own legitimacy being tied to the quality of life of its population. The Democratic Party’s Хүн шиг амьдаръя, Улс шиг хөгжье (Live like a person, Develop like a country) and the MPP’s Эх орондоо сайхан амьдарцгаая, are very similar. The campaign might come down to which party is seen as more capable of spreading the country's new found wealth across the populace.
4. This election still has some logistical concerns to overcome and the combination with city elections might prove problematic. The decision to combine the City of Ulaanbaatar elections with the national Ikh Khural elections remains unclear to me at this time. I am not sure exactly how this is suppose to simplify or improve the electoral process at all, indeed, it seems an unnecessary complication. Additionally, I wonder if it doesn’t complicate the campaigning process. For example, the current mayor of UB is quite popular, even with voters that are do not usually support his MPP party. One has to wonder if this might affect swing voters’ decisions on whether to offer more support to MPP outside of the city elections, in a show of support for Munkhbayar. It will be interesting to see how it ultimately plays out. Continuing concerns about voter registration and the disbursement of new ID-cards also complicate the process.
5. S. Oyun is best described as the Hilary Clinton of Mongolia. She is a strong politician and woman, supporting all the right causes, with the strength of character to pull it all together. Enough said.
Open Letter to Dianne Feinstein
Re: Statement on Former Mongolian President Enkhbayar
Dear Senator Feinstein,
I have been greatly disturbed by your recent comments regarding the arrest and on-going trial of N. Enkhbayar. As a life-long California resident, and a long time scholar of Mongolian politics, I believe that this letter is a long time coming. Instead of applauding the fact that Mongolia has been able to pass an anti-corruption bill after many years of debate, and that the newly established Anti-Corruption Agency has been able to actually make arrests of usually untouchable, high-level officials, you have instead become a mouthpiece for an excellently managed PR campaign on the part of Enkhbayar’s family.
Imagine my surprise when I mentioned to Mongolian colleagues that I had previously studied in California and they said that you are now well known in Mongolia! However, this status was not gained from your advocacy for Mongolian interests or even your record at home (which is exemplary, let us be sure), but rather from your personal connections to Enkhbayar’s family. I am further disturbed that you have declared the charges to be unequivocally politically motivated, calling into question the strength of Mongolian democracy and its commitment to the rule of law. It must be recognized that the issue is far from clear and simple. Since Mongolia’s Communist Party stepped down in 1990, the country has seen mostly peaceful transfers of power. Mongolia’s democratic system remains strong, has some way to go, but still deserves to be supported by the US and other democracies.
The arrest of ex-President Enkhbayar should be seen as a sign that Mongolia is finally taking action against corruption. I personally have been to Mongolia 4 times, totaling almost 15 months of research and language study in Ulaanbaatar. In all that time I have never once met a single Mongolian citizen that did not believe Enkhbayar to be among Mongolia’s most corrupt politicians. I have, furthermore, met very few people this summer who are unhappy with the arrest of this infamous political character. You seem to assert that Enkhbayar is a friend of the United States, and deserving of our support in his “time of need”. Instead, we need to recognize Enkhbayar for what he is: a person being charged with corruption. His trial has proceeded in a standard fashion, and despite claims to the contrary, he has been given every right due to him by the Mongolian Constitution. I would hope that the US is wise enough to notice the difference between political oppression and theatrics. Enkhbayar’s alleged hunger strike seems too reminiscent of Tymoshenko’s ordeal in Ukraine to be simple coincidence, and yet the cases could not be more different. Weeding out real political motivations from the fake claims of suspected criminals is difficult to be sure, and more research should go into any case before a US Senator declares a solid opinion on it.
The Mongolian authorities felt that they had sufficient evidence to support their case, take Enkhbayar into custody, and proceed with legal action. It is the right of the Mongolian people to proceed with this case as they feel necessary. I hope that in future international concerns, I will see more nuanced and sophisticated analysis on the part of my elected officials. Mongolian politics are hard to follow and many facts and figures tend to be missing from rumors and hearsay. I, for one, would avoid engaging US support for a man that many believe to guilty of deep corruption. Mongolia’s democratic court system is more than prepared to treat this case with the sensitivity it deserves. And US political support, whether it comes from one politician or many, may prove detrimental to the hearts and minds of the Mongolian people.
I am proud of my state’s political record and its status as one of America’s most forward thinking locations. I support many of your policies, Senator Feinstein. But today, I am saddened by your support for a cause not deserving to your record.
B.A. International Relations with Honors, USC 2011
M.A. Asia Pacific Policy Studies, UBC 2012
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.