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.)
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.