I recently came across and article in The Atlantic, which reported that Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev had suggested that perhaps the suffix –stan was responsible for Kazakhstan’s low global profile. He mentioned Mongolia, as a country that continues to attract international attention despite its still small economy and population. Perhaps a name change would help Kazakhstan develop a stronger international profile, he mused.
There is really only one good Russian response to this: Здравствуйте! ('hello' or in this case more like a saracastic 'good morning'). On the one hand this could just have been a interesting idea that the President was playing around with, which has no serious implications for the future of the country or his perception of its position in world affairs. On the other hand, it could point to some serious misconceptions on Nazarbayev's part.
Let's start with the statement that Mongolia has somehow benefited as a result of not being called something like Mongolistan. But, for every available economic indicator, Kazakhstan greatly outperforms Mongolia. This is, naturally, to be expected. Kazakhstan is a oil producing state, has a much larger population, and was more developed at the dissolution of the Soviet Union, giving it a greater starting point. Just looking at FDI, Kazakhstan hosts a huge figure at $111.5 billion, while Mongolia stands at just $4.5 billion! Anecdotally, it is more that clear enough that many more businessmen, students, policy makers, and analysts take a direct interest in Kazakhstan than in Mongolia when it comes to current affairs (naturally, I would suspect that Mongolia can command more than its fair share of historians). While it is beyond the scope of this casual blog post to offer a full comparison, I feel confident in saying that Kazakhstan's international profile is significantly more pronounced than Mongolia's.
That said, I would suspect that Nazarbayev was more concerned with a different kind of indicator, namely something more related to soft power. (I detailed Mongolia's «small power» here). In this case, Mongolia is certainly outperforming Kazakhstan, and it has nothing to do with a little Perso-Turkic suffix. Mongolia is a proven democracy, and has consistently shown its committment to engaging with the international community and improving its own democratic credentials. While Mongolia has eshewed further deepening its relationship with the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan is part of the Eurasian Custom's Union and CIS, tieing it to the Russian Federation. While Mongolia has sought to further its relationship with the European Union and North America, Kazakhstan remains a difficult partner because of its authoritarian political system and continued abuses of basic civil/human rights. Even with these limitations, Kazakhstan does enjoy good relations with the E.U. and the United States, but the relationship remains limited, largely as a result of Kazakhstan's own domestic and foreign policy choices. While Mongolia has sought to rise above its own geographical position, Kazakhstan's leadership continues to avoid a more balanced relationship with the Russian Federation, to the direct detriment of its other foreign policy goals. (In fact, Kazakhstan's political system is also a key reason for the underdeveloped nature of Kazakhstan-Mongolian relations, outlined here).
At the end of the day, Kazakhstan's economy is stronger and its economic ties to North America and Europe outperform Mongolia on most indicators. If Kazakhstan has any lessons to learn from Mongolia it is that democracy matters as much as a domestic policy as a lever for diplomatic relations. Democracy matters, names and suffixs don't.
With the election right around the corner, we thought it would be helpful to offer a brief comparison of the foreign policy proposals from the three candidates. Since setting foreign policy measures is one of the primary roles of the president as head of state, it is not only a pertinent topic, but one which the candidates can directly effect, should they choose.
(All information from official Mongolian-language action plans as found on official websites or Mongolian news sites, if I incorrectly translated anything, please do let me know. I am not a native Mongolian speaker).
Ts. Elbegdorj – Democratic Party
Incumbent President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj’s action plan saves his foreign policy plans for the last of its 5 sections. The proposal is primarily concerned with Mongolia’s international image, probably in response to some notable scandals lately, including the money laundering issue, and perhaps even the one-sided reporting on Enkhbayar’s arrest last year.
The header to section 5 says that special attention will be paid to Mongolia’s international reputation, as well as the development of policies that strengthen the country’s security, independence, and autonomy. The predictable statements of developing multilateral and bilateral relations (5.1), and cooperating with neighbors and other countries (5.2) are referenced. Attention will be paid to Mongolia’s participation in the regional economy, infrastructure, and security apparatuses (5.3). Specific reference is made to Asia, the Pacific, and Europe (5.5), perhaps setting the parameters of Mongolia’s main geographic focus. He states that Mongolia is committed to strengthening human rights, rule of law, and transparency throughout the Asian continent, with specific attention to Northeast Asia (5.6), which further supports Mongolia’s identity as a Northeast Asian country, as opposed to Central Asian. Foreign and Domestic policy cross paths with reference to Mongolia’s cooperation with internationally backed health initiatives including those against alcoholism (5.8). Section 5.9 and 5.10 support the development of Mongolian studies internationally, although I am bit confused as to how exactly this would be done, and would suggest that it is in large part a concession to more nationalist-leaning voters. Section 5.12 is related, with a proposal to increase Mongolian participation in the in global arts and culture, as well as sports.
B. Bat-Erdene- Mongolian People’s Party
Candidate for the MPP, B. Bat-Erdene, makes significantly less focus on foreign policy issues. While foreign policy will undoubtedly be central to Mongolia’s economic, environmental, and physical security, the section of the action plan devoted specifically to foreign policy is significantly shorter than Elbegdorj’s proposal. He titles the section “It is the president’s responsibility to (to ensure) balanced and friendly foreign relations”.
The obligatory statement that government policy will continue Mongolia’s valued peaceful relations is first on the agenda (7.1). Mongolia’s dignity in the international community will be strengthened (7.2). He seems to place additional emphasis on relations with Mongolia’s neighbors by devoting a separate subsection to the issue (7.3), but he is still devoted to furthering Mongolia’s “third neighbor policy” (7.4). He calls for an integrated government foreign policy (7.5), which I find really odd, since Mongolia’s foreign policy has always seemed centralized and united. Like Elbegdorj, he also makes reference to supporting Mongolians abroad, which is likely in reaction to recent incidents against Mongolian citizens in China, but aimed at increasing voter participation in the Mongolian ex-pat community.
N. Udval- Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party
N. Udval, candidate for the MPRP, presents an action plan that differs significantly from the rest of the competition. As we saw in the 2012 Parliamentary elections, the MPRP is a largely reactionary party, and seeks broad reforms throughout the country coupled with a decidedly non-subtle appeal for resource nationalization. Foreign policy is covered in number 4 of her 5 action pillars. The MPRP showed an interesting play on numbers in 2012 by using the phrase шударга ёс (justice) coalition, while also presenting 9 candidates (ёс also being the Mongolian word for nine and numerologically significant as 3x3). This year, the party presents 5 policy pillars each with 5 subsections (organization a social scientist is happy to see, I dare say!). Oddly enough the section is not even labeled foreign policy/relations, but rather “Ways of protecting and strengthening national independence and the economy”.
She gets off to a classic enough start calling the enrichment of friendly relations with Russia and China as well as the expansion of the third neighbor policy (4.1). After that, however, the proposals become more specific and interesting than the broad proposals of the other two candidates. The next proposal (4.2) makes specific reference to the importance of access to international markets for landlocked countries, and that she will strive to enhance international cooperation on this front. Subsection 4.3 declares that foreign investment must be helpful and fair to the country, as well as stating that domestic investors should have the upper hand. This is pretty striking and rather odd, considering the still limited avenues available for domestic investors. Subsection 4.4 proposes the implementation of Mongolian majority ownership for strategic mineral resources, such as Oyu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi. 4.5 calls for refurbishing rail and road links from Mongolia to Europe and Asia. This is certainly an important consideration and goes hand in hand with 4.2; however, I am unsure what effect this might have on rail links from OT into China/Russia, considering differing rail gauges and Russian joint-ownership of the Mongolian railway system.
Looking at these summaries and combining information from other posts on this blog, three important points come up.
1) Mongolia has limited policy options. None of these proposals are particularly revolutionary when it comes to the basic tenants of Mongolian foreign policy. All three support continued good relations with Russia and China, balanced by support to the «third neighbor policy». No serious political party can possibly seek to upset relations with Russia or China as the country's top economic partners, but no one wants to see a Mongolia economically or politically dominated by either or both neighors, necessiting the continued engagement of outside powers, regional and global.
2) Most of the proposals are made to appeal to voters, not policy makers. By this I mean that for the most part the limited changes proposed seem to be aimed more at attracting voters with vague statements that change is necessary rather than meaningful policy measures. B. Bat-Erdene's proposal calls for more consistency in policy measures, but I have yet to see any evidence of disjointed policy making from Ulaanbaatar. Rather this seems aimed at dicrediting Elbegdorj's policies. N. Udval does make reference to some radical proposals (such as the nationalization of stategic resources and the role of domestic investors) that would change the Mongolian landscape significantly, but I can't see anyway that as president she or her party could effectively implement such measures. The MPRP is in coalition with the DP for the time being, so nationalization is off the table, although some re-negotiation might be a possibility. The role of domestic investment is still limited in a country where the per capita GDP is just over $5,000. Rather, she seems keen to capitalize on the MPRP voter base, which has included a more nationalist-leaning segment of the population since its creation last year.
3) Third parties make Mongolian politics more interesting. The status-quo DP and MPP are making far more moderate proposals than the MPRP, and while international investors might be worried about her proposals, it certainly does add a strong new voice to the political arena. Her approach is decidedly different, and the move for infrastructal integration and policies to mitigate the country's landlocked status are laudable (although her role in these policies as president is limited). The MPRP got slightly over 20% of the vote last year, which is significant as a third party. I would certainly like to see some counter proposals by other thrid parties, such as the Social Democrats or the Civil Will, Green Party. While they might not want to waste resources on a campaign they cannot hope to win, new voices and action plans can certianly contribute to Mongolia's political development.
(This post can also be found at Mongolia Focus.)
Mongolia’s Democratic Gains
The fourth and final post in the series summarizing key sections of my M.A. thesis, looks at what Mongolia has to gain from its democratic credentials. I have argued this point in previous posts, but present it here in relations to part 3 of the series.
The expression “not all that glitters is gold” is perhaps best rephrased for our purposes as “not all that democratizes will become a democracy”. When Mongolia became an official democracy, no one was sure how a small state with less than 3 million people would manage to produce a real democracy in-between the authoritarian PRC and the uncertain democratization of the newly established Russian Federation. However, all available indicators support that it accomplished just that.
Mongolia’s democratic transition was largely based on domestic political will. Real democratization ultimately is an “exercise in national political self-determination. True democratization has to be domestically driven otherwise it will lack legitimacy. Mongolia was ranked at 6.23 by Democracy Index 2011, 6.36 in 2010 , 6.6 in 2008 , and 6.6 and 2006 , on a 10 point scale, meaning that it has been consistently ranked as a “flawed democracy”, which while admitting its problems, firmly ranks Mongolia as a democracy above hybrid and authoritarian regimes. Freedom House has ranked Mongolia as “free” for all available years (2002-2012). Although Mongolia is still a developing democracy, it is hard to argue that it is not a functioning one. Signs of increased civil society engagement and contested election results are actually a sign of a thriving democratic system, where the ability to change the status quo is recognized and a number of political parties are competing against each other.
U.S. and E.U. support to Mongolian Democracy
High profile visits are an important indication of bilateral ties and entail some level of prestige and significance to relationships between nations. Between the U.S. and Mongolia, several high-profile visits have highlighted the slowly deepening relationship between these two distant countries, often making explicit mention to Mongolia’s democratic status (see Table 2 for a list of the most prominent visits).
2005: Rep. Dennis Hastert2005: President George Bush
2011: Vice-President Joe Biden
2012: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton
To the United States of America
1991: President Ochirbat
2001: Prime Minister Enkhbayar
2004: President Bagabandi
2011: President Elbegdorj
Outside of high-profile diplomacy, the U.S. has also signaled its support for Mongolia and the value it places on Mongolian democracy in a number of other statements and institutional mechanisms. The U.S.-Mongolia Friendship Caucus seeks to educate and inform U.S. politicians on Mongolia, focusing on Mongolia’s political system and the reform process. The International Republican Institute (IRI) began working in Mongolia in 1992, working explicitly to support democratic governance and institutional development. In 2010, the U.S. Embassy hosted events celebrating the 20th anniversary of Mongolia’s “decision for democracy”, during which then-Ambassador Addleton identified democracy as one of five pillars of U.S.-Mongolian relations. In July 2011, Mongolia was granted Presidency of the Community of Democracies, and will host a meeting of the organization in 2013. The organization makes clear reference to Mongolia as an example of successful democratization and simultaneous political and economic transitions.
The United States recognizes that Mongolia is an important partner as it continues to shift its diplomatic focus to the Asia-Pacific. Mongolia is a U.S./international successful story for democratization and has been held up as a model of Asian democratization, in particular. The U.S. has stated that its goals in Mongolia are not geostrategic in nature, and that the U.S. is, instead, focused on helping develop “a base of democracy” in Mongolia. Mongolian democracy contributes to the country’s stability in an area defined by such authoritarian powers as Russia and China. The United States sees its own security as dependent on the domestic political stability of other states, and sees Mongolia’s democratic system as a potential balancing force against authoritarianism in the region.
Mongolia’s proven commitment to democracy is also in line with E.U. global goals, particularly as they concern Central Asia. Mongolia’s accession to the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe on November 22, 2012 is a clear indication that Europe and Mongolia are coming closer together on a number of issues. As the official announcement was being made, the OSCE Secretary General noted that Mongolia’s participation would allow the organization to better tackle transnational issues, while Mongolia stood to benefit from the OSCE’s expertise in democratic transitions. These shared values are defined as respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreements also explicitly support democratic development. The U.S. responded to this announcement in a similar fashion, citing the accession as an indicator of Mongolia’s importance to the democratic community as an example of a successful transition from communism to democracy. A number of European development projects in Mongolia are handled directly by the European Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, which aims to encourage democratic institutional reform and support for human rights, specifically regarding the rights of inmates and sexual minorities. Furthermore, Germany’s Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) political foundation has taken an active role in supporting Mongolia’s democratization through seminar trainings and programs to strengthen decentralization efforts. Europe began developing relations with democratic Mongolia at a slower pace than the United States, but the proximity of Eastern Europe to Eurasia and a shared history between Mongolia and many Eastern European nations under the Soviet Union sets the groundwork for more multifaceted relations in the future.
Mongolian democracy stands out in stark contrast to it neighbors, Russia and China, as well as across the larger post-communist world, such as the Central Asian authoritarian states Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Despite all its “robustness/rowdiness”, the Mongolian political system is clearly democratic. A perfect democracy where all citizens have an equal say and where the government is equally responsive to all its citizens’ demands does not exist. From Hilary Clinton’s statement in Ulaanbaatar in support of democratization, it can be observed that Mongolia is becoming one of the poster countries for democracy and the rewards, stability, and development benefits that are associated with this political system. Mongolia can be held against claims that democracy is not for Asia. This is by no means meant to suggest that Mongolia’s own motivation in democratizing was to attract “Western” favor; rather, the point is that once democratized, the benefits to the Mongolian state and population were international as well domestic.
At the same time, Mongolia has been able to actively leverage its democratic credentials as part of its efforts to adapt to the post-communist international system and fulfill its “third neighbor policy.” Mongolia’s Concept of Foreign Policy states that the country’s foreign policy is guided by international norms such as respect for human rights and freedoms. The Concept of National Security of Mongolia identifies the country’s democratic government as key to the state’s continued security in the sectors of civil rights and information security. Furthermore, Mongolia’s democratic government distinguishes it a region defined by Russia, China, and the Central Asian states.
Does democracy matter? It seems that democracy is a potential tool that Mongolia can and has used to increase its attractiveness as a partner for U.S., E.U., and potentially other leading democracies. Attracting this interest is a key factor in Mongolia’s foreign policy, since it allows Mongolia to command a larger number of “third neighbors” as a counterbalance to Russian and especially Chinese influence. It is crucial that Mongolia implements a strong policy of diversification. Indeed, as a small state between giants, it knows only too well that over dependence on any one power will not afford it the sovereignty and autonomous decision-making power that it needs to survive as an independent state. If Mongolia’s democratization was not a factor and the country’s natural resources, growing economy, and/or strategic location were the only factors influencing relations with the U.S. and E.U., we might still expect some diplomatic gestures (Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are also OSCE participating states). However, we would not see the level of high profile visits, the institutional support, or rhetorical references to Mongolia as a responsible stakeholder. We would also see more emphasis on economic ties and perhaps stronger military relations.
 Fish, M.Steven. “The Inner Asian Anomaly: Mongolia’s Democratization in Comparative Perspective.” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 34, no. 3 (September 2001). P. 323
 Burnell, From Assistance to Appraising, p. 414
 Ibid., p. 421
 Democracy Index 2011
 Democracy Index 2010
 Democracy Index 2008
 Democracy Index 2006
 Freedom House, 2002-2012
 As reported by the Embassy of Mongolia in the United States of American: http://www.mongolianembassy.us/mongolia_and_usa/us_mongolia_friendship_caucus.php. (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 As reported on IRI’s official website: http://www.iri.org/countries-and-programs/asia/mongolia (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 “Ambassador Addelton’s Remarks at the Asia Society Breakfast: Warm Relations in a Cold Place: The United States and Mongolia,” Embassy of the United States in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, June 14, 2011. http://mongolia.usembassy.gov/speeches_061411.html (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 The White House, U.S.-Mongolia Joint Statement
 See the Community of Democracies official website: http://community-democracies.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=3
 Noerper, Ten Things We Get from Mongolia. p. 1
 Narangoa, Preventative Diplomacy, p. 373
 Wachman, NBR, p. 5
 “Secretary General welomes Mongolia to OSCE, stresses added value to security community,” OSCE News (November 22, 2012). (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 Statement by High Representative Catherine Ashton Following the Legislative Elections in Mongolia on 28 June 2012, 2012.
 European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights
 “U.S. Envoy on Mongolia as OSCE Participating State,” IIP Digital (November 22, 2012). http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/texttrans/2012/11/20121123139050.html#axzz2E82SDh1V (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 “EU supports Mongolia’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector with 7 mln euro project,” Delegation of European Union to Mongolia, May 31, 2012. http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/mongolia/press_corner/all_news/news/2012/20120531_01_en.htm (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 For more information on KAS, please see: http://www.kas.de/mongolei/en/ (Accessed on December 4, 2012).
 As rated by Democracy Index
 Epstein, Democracy Promotion, p. 11
 Concept of Foreign Policy, Section II, Article 8
 The Concept of National Security of Mongolia, Section IV
Part 3 of the summary posts of my M.A. thesis will detail how and why the United States and Europe support international democratization. This post is integral to understanding the final post, which will detail what this means for small states using Mongolia as a detailed case study.
The European Union and the United States of America have been the leading forces in global democratization. The United States’ primary goal has been to increase global security through democratization support. The E.U., on the other hand, has been largely focused on fostering democratization in Eastern Europe as a step towards EU integration, and has only recently displayed real interest in extra-regional democratization efforts.
THE UNITED STATES
While U.S. foreign policy has favored democracies since the country’s independence, it was in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that the promotion of democracy became a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy and tied directly to the nation’s security. Democracy was viewed as essential for long-term stability and fighting terrorism around the globe. In the post-9/11 world, democratization became a U.S. strategic priority, being tied to two important concepts in democratization literature: democratic peace theory and the instability of authoritarian regimes. The Democratic Peace Theory maintains that democracies do not go to war with each other, meaning that with more democracies the world would be “safer” and more prosperous, thus furthering U.S. global and regional interests. A key caveat, however, is that the democratic peace theory seems to only apply to mature/established democracies, whereas transitional governments have proven far less stable. Democracy is supposed to facilitate long-term economic growth by allowing for the freedom of expression and innovation as well as promoting rule of law, which can foster predictability for investors and control corruption.
In terms of actually policy making, the U.S. has several key programs, including USAID and NED. USAID reported $1.5 billion dollars of expenditures directly related to the promotion of democracy in 2004; the National Endowment for Democracy provides funding for the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for their non-governmental assistance to developing democracies. Through these programs the United States is able to reward democratizing regimes and further its own international interests.
EUROPE/ EUROPEAN UNION
The E.U. is the largest regional promoter of democracy; but the fact that it is comprised of sovereign member states, limits the extent to which one can identify a common foreign policy theme. However, the E.U. does possess several important mechanisms to further its democratization agenda, including membership privileges and a developing reputation as a moral international actor. The 2012 announcement that the E.U. would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, underscores the E.U.’s achievements as a force for democratization and, by extension, global stability and human rights.
In order to begin the process of obtaining E.U. membership, states must demonstrate a commitment to democracy and human rights. E.U. membership, by extension, not only carries a number of important economic advantages, but also provides some level of security as well. Organizations such as the E.U. constrain the larger powers’ options and work to level the playing field between large and small states by awarding each country an equal vote. The “leverage”, provided by economic and security incentives, is integral to understanding the democratization of Eastern Europe.
While the U.S. can rely on the federal government as a direct source of democratization funding and support, the E.U. is more fragmented and as such democratization efforts are largely on a country-by-country basis. The largest democracy-promoters in the E.U. include the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, Britain’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and Germany’s Stiftungen. While the E.U.’s foreign policy is largely handled by each of its member states individually, the promotion of democracy is probably the most accessible means to further its security interests. Democracy is both a goal and an instrument of European foreign policy, meaning that not only does the E.U. foster democratization for the stability and peace that are assumed to arise from this form of governance, but it also recognizes that simply by appearing to support democratization, the E.U. is looked upon more favorably. While the E.U. was devoted to the democratization of Eastern Europe immediately following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, today Europe is looking to promote democracy in various strategic areas, such as Central/Inner Asia and the Caucasus.
The European Parliament, through such initiatives as the European Foundation for Democracy through Partnership (EPD), the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights, and the Democracy Caucus at the European Parliament, takes an active role in pan-E.U. foreign policy.
 Lagon, Mark P. Promoting Democracy : The Whys and Hows for the United States and the International Community. New York City, 2011. p. 3
 Dalacoura, Katerina. “US Foreign Policy and Democracy Promotion in the Middle East : Theoretical Perspectives and Policy Recommendations.” Ortadogu Etutleri 2, no. 3 (2010). p. 60
 Epstein, Democracy Promotion, p. 8
 Lagon, Promoting Democracy, p. 2
 Burnell, From Assistance to Appraising, p. 416
 Wivel, Small E.U. Member States, p. 395
 Ibid. p. 423
 Wivel, Small E.U. Member States, p. 416
 Olsen, Democracy as a Foreign Policy Instrument, p. 143
 Ibid., p. 144
As of December 19th, my M.A. thesis was officially accepted, and I closed my M.A. Asia Pacific Policy Studies program. I was the first student in my program to write a thesis and finish in a year and half! Indeed, I am surprised it all worked out so smoothly with writing a thesis, taking 2 classes, applying to 8 PhD programs, and studying for the GRE!
The thesis, Small Power: Mongolia's Democratization and Foreign Policy Objectives, explores the following:
Small states are in a unique position, where they cannot hope to meet their foreign policyand security objectives through hard power. Rather, small states must balance against large neighbors via more subtle and nuanced ways. Through a critique of soft power, the author presents a new analytical framework for understanding small power and new criteria for defining “smallness” in today’s international system. Small power attempts to explain small state foreign policy decision-making and the role that “attractiveness” plays in their relations with larger states. One potential source of small power- democratic governance- is explored through a detailed look at the Mongolian model of democratization as a foreign policy tool in its “third neighbor policy”. Successful democratic transitions in small states can attract more security related,economic, and institutional support from leading democratic countries than their small size might initially suggest.
For anyone interested, my full thesis is available at http://hdl.handle.net/2429/43714
I am now on my way to California, where I will be awaiting decision letters from PhD programs and the Fulbright Commission. In the coming weeks/months, I will have more time for frequent posting, including a number of posts based on my research for the thesis, some impressions of my M.A. program, and a number of other topics fitting into SMALL MATTERS. I also intend to publish a number of short book reviews, which I hope will prove useful...to my 3 readers...;)
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.
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.