The Missing Piece: Independent Candidates in Recent Parliamentary Election of Mongolia

On June 24, 2020, Mongolian voters went to the polls amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The eighth parliamentary election concluded a landslide victory of the ruling party, Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) once again, winning a majority 62/76 seats in the parliament. This election, like any other previous elections, was full of hope and despair. One important phenomenon may be worth noting. Despite the emergence of new political parties and alliances in opposition to the long-reigned Democratic Party (DP) and MPP — independent candidates were the most defeated ones. Astonishingly, among 121 independent candidates, a single candidate has won — who happened to be the former Prime Minister of Mongolia, Altankhuyag Norov (a longtime DP member.) A single independent seat is not viewed as an improvement in Mongolia’s election maturity.

In comparison to the 2016 parliamentary election, the independent candidate numbers almost doubled, from 69 to 121. These individuals not only consist of foreign-educated lawyers, academics, researchers, and business owners but also public service officials. The increasing inequality between the rich and poor, Mongolia’s rightful allocation of natural resources, and elimination of corruption and unapt political figures were leading agendas of these independent candidates. One main take away from this election is, the independent candidates had the utmost sincerity to tackle corruption and amend reform in the broken judicial system of Mongolia.

In an interview with the author on 77 Podcast, a UC-Berkeley Law School graduate Erkhembaatar Jargaltsengel stated “He is running for office as an independent because he no longer believes in the party system, dominated by cronies of DP and MPP. A party system that has long neglected the people’s needs — a system that shadows transparency and links political factions against what is just and what is legal.” Moreover, a similar statement was made by another independent candidate, Bat-Orgil Turbold, a graduate of James Madison University. Bat-Orgil shed some light on the importance of Mongolia’s energy policy in the upcoming years.

Another aspect of this election was the participation of women. According to the National Committee on Gender Equality, in comparison to the 2016 parliamentary election, there is a 1% drop in female candidacies. Shockingly, among 606 candidates, only 13 females have won the election, making up a sparse 17.1%. In the light of increasing participation of women in Mongolian politics, many of the female candidates are foreign graduates whose lives, education, and perspectives have been influenced by the principles of good governance, open society, and modernization. In that respect, the ruling party, MPP has successfully endorsed 11 highly successful female candidates. Moreover, according to the General Election Commission of Mongolia, among 74% voter turnout, 44.4% constituencies are male, whereas 55.6% are female.

The landslide victory of the MPP ignites more task-oriented agendas in the upcoming four years. MPP currently occupies 65 seats in the parliament has so far been favored and applauded for its handling of COVID-19, with 0 deaths. Its foreign policy continues to engage with both neighbors — Russia and China and the third neighbors. On the same token, the government has been harshly criticized for having Mongolia listed on The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list for failing to adopt transparency and new policies to track illicit funds to combat terrorism. In the latest report released by FATF, “Mongolia has made significant progress in addressing the technical compliance deficiencies identified in its MER and has been upgraded on 16 Recommendations.”

In a thorough analysis of the Mongolian People’s Party’s election 2020 agenda, entrenched corruption issues weren’t mentioned nor spelled out. This is not to say that the current government will not tackle corruption issues. For MPP to hold its political power, the party will have to implement transparent policies, pressured from either constituencies or international organizations such as FATF. Moreover, in the upcoming years, MPP will need to implement restrictor fiscal and shrewd economic policies to reinvigorate the COVID-19 economic stress. The challenge will be how to balance tighter fiscal policies and fulfill the promises to the constituencies. Some political analysts and commentators are speculating that the jailing of high-profile MPP political figures are already a sign of anti-corruption efforts from within.