Mongolia consolidates its young democracy

By Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation (Thailand)/Asia News Network

After nearly a century of history, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, has recently decided to change its name to Mongolian People’s Party (MRM). By deleting “revolution,” the party leaders hope to connect with the Mongolians who want freer and unorthodox lifestyle. The purpose is to win the next election scheduled in 2012.

Ruling and opposition parties have already begun to woo voters, who are young and restless given the current economic and political dynamic of this vast nomad land, three times the size of Thailand. To win the next election, politicians have become very public-relations conscious and are coming out with economic platforms with giveaway cash and numerous incentives. In an exclusive interview with Inside Asia recently, President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj was clear that Mongolia’s democracy is not only irreversible but it is consolidating despite all the ups and downs. Most importantly, his country is moving forward to integrate with the world community of democracies. Unmistakably, the 2.7 million Mongolians living in the world’s largest landlocked country — some I interviewed — a re also proud of this fact and share this common objective. The Community of Democracies, an international conference to promote democracy worldwide, will be held in Ulaan Baatar in 2013. Elbegdorj knows very well all the democratic challenges his country has to face in dismantling old system and mindsets. Lack of transparency, corruption, respect of human rights and injustice are some of the top challenges that impede functional democracy.

Back in 1990, he was one of the thousands of young activists protesting at the Sukhbaatar Square that eventually brought down the totalitarian regime ruling the country since 1924. During the two-decade of transition, he served twice as prime minister and returned as president only last May when his party, Democratic Party, joined the MRM for a coalition government following the 2008 election, which was labeled free and fair by international observers. In continental East Asia, apart from Korea, Mongolia is the most democratic country with free press. Elbegdorj reiterated that Mongolia’s young democracy respects liberty, freedom and promotes human rights. New York-based Freedom House this year rated the country as free.

In comparison, all Southeast Asian countries were rated as partly free and not-free. Unfortunately for outsiders, Mongolia is suffering from an identity dilemma as it is commonly known as part of Central Asia due to its long association with the former Soviet governed Central Asia such as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan. Although the political crisis in Burma was not featured during the interview, it is an open secret that the president is an avid supporter of the democratic movement in Burma, especially Aung San Suu Kyi. Together with many former prime ministers and Nobel prize laureates, he has issued several statements calling for her freedom and that of all political prisoners. Indeed, it is a major achievement that Mongolian democracy has survived in the past 20 years. When talking to non-governmental organizations, one got a pretty grim view of the country’s democratic future. They said democracy is on the decline in the past five years because of corrupt politicians and cronyism without much public engagement.

But the president said that his government is inviting views and welcoming participation from the estimated 7,000 nongovernmental organizations. Under his government, representatives from government and civil society organizations would hold talks every first Tuesday of each month.