Current Convulsions in Mongolia’s Political Party Landscape

Memo #52 (Mongolian translation available here)

By Julian Dierkes – julian.dierkes [at] ubc.ca

Mongolia is Asia’s only post-socialist democracy and one of few Asian democracies. The political system of Mongolian democracy, like anywhere else, is a working compromise. The renaming and subsequent split of the governing Mongolian People’s Party, the merger of the Civic Will Party with the Green Party, and current discussions about changes in electoral laws suggest a maturing of the party system.

In late Fall 2010, the former socialist ruling party, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), continued its “transmogrification” process by dropping “Revolutionary” from its name – now, MPP. Prime Minister Batbold most prominently supported this decision. Some party members were opposed and on January 28, 2011, they organized into a reborn MPRP headed by former President Enkhbayar. A reconstituted MPRP could weaken the MPP significantly as it might take over some of its strong organization in the countryside and veer towards populism. But it may also ideologically refocus the MPP and MPRP.

On January 31, 2011, two small opposition parties announced their merger into the Civic Will-Green Party (Иргэний зориг-Ногоон нам). Both parties emphasized their proximity to voters without patronage structures. They are represented in the Ikh Khural (parliament) by the charismatic Dr. Oyun, sister of the slain democracy leader Zorig, and Dr. Enkhbat, an early internet entrepreneur. The merger might inspire a sharpening of the party’s political profile by focusing on anti-corruption measures and giving a voice to ordinary Mongolians.

Discussions of changes to the electoral system are likely to benefit smaller parties. The impetus behind these changes is the unwieldy multi-member plurality system (or block voting) adopted for the 2008 parliamentary election. Current proposals focus on a mix of direct and proportional representation. While some independent Ikh Khural members, like Drs. Oyun and Enkhbat, have fared well in direct elections, less prominent members of their parties will certainly benefit from the introduction of some elements of proportional representation for the 2012 parliamentary election.

Depending on decisions about the electoral system this spring, the current convulsions could lead to more ideologically defined parties that will contribute to a vibrant public discourse about some of the difficult policy choices that Mongolia faces. But changes can also bolster populist tendencies and keep the country’s political class mired in corrupt structures of patronage.

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Asia Pacific Memo is published by the Institute of Asian Research (IAR) at The University of British Columbia. Distributed weekly, we feature 350 word essays or video interviews on contemporary Asia.