Why No Anti-Mining Party in Mongolia? Why No Pro-Mining Movement?

Memo #106

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

Next week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to address the Mongolian parliament. Her visit will come during a tumultuous period as Mongolian politicians prepare for parliamentary elections in summer 2012. Recently, 20 MPs petitioned the government to revisit the 2009 Investment Agreement signed with Ivanhoe Mines and Rio Tinto for the giant Oyu Tolgoi (OT) gold and copper project. The petition sent shares and Mongolia’s credibility as a natural resource investment destination momentarily tumbling. No enduring anti-mining coalition is behind this petition, nor has a pro-mining, single-issue party emerged.

Current Convulsions in Mongolia’s Political Party Landscape (Memo #52)

Mongolia has moved beyond the status of a recent democracy after 20 years of peaceful changes of government. It has avoided the authoritarian fate of the post-Soviet Central Asian countries. Natural resources and especially the OT project loom large in politics as they are THE viable avenue to economic development.

Is the current turmoil an indication of long-term risk? Curiously, no anti-mining party has emerged. While some individual politicians have railed against the OT Investment Agreement for years, they have not attempted to organize as a party or movement.

Single-issue parties are not uncommon elsewhere. Consider the Canadian Bloc Québécois or the anti-nuclear German Green Party of the early 1980s.

Two dynamics prevent the emergence of such a party: 1. patronage, and 2. uncertainty among politicians about their opposition or support.

Mongolian politics revolve around patronage. Politicians build electoral strength by offering positions and funding to supporters once elected. There are thus significant incentives for politicians to be a member of the government.

Secondly, the strong populist ethic in Mongolian election campaigns has kept politicians from adopting clear substantive positions, lest they be identified too closely with this position and risk the wrath of the electorate should this position fall out of favour.

Unless these underlying dynamics change – and the current turmoil suggests the opposite – no stable anti-mining coalition, nor a forceful pro-mining group, will emerge. If you are interested in Mongolia’s development or, worse, if you are financially invested, buckle your seat belts, as many Mongolian voices will continue to ruminate publicly about how to best structure natural resource development.

Julian Dierkes – Keidanren Chair in Japanese Research, Institute of Asian Research, The University of British Columbia. Memo #2Memo #15Memo #43Memo #52Memo #87Memo #161Memo #168 Guest editor for Theme: “100 Years after the Xinhai Revolution“.

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