ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (AP) – Mongolia is hosting parliamentary elections on Wednesday, maintaining an almost 30-year democratic system in a vast but lightly populated country sandwiched between authoritarian regimes in Russia and China and ravaged by economic difficulties.
Mongolia is the second country after South Korea to hold national elections during the corona virus pandemic. It has closed the borders and forced many to stay at home to avoid infection. The parliamentary elections are the eighth in the country since it passed a new constitution in 1992 after the end of more than 60 years of communist rule.
The Mongolian People’s Party aims to retain the 65 seats it achieved in the 76 seats Grand Khural in an overwhelming victory in 2016 under a system of one representative per district. The election rules have been revised this year to allow two to three MPs to be elected from one district, resulting in 670 candidates in 29 constituencies.
Urban areas in the largely rural country are the most controversial, with 28 candidates in a district of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, which is home to about half the national population of 3 million people.
Public services are an important point, especially in slums that surround the city and offer few services such as electricity and sewerage.
More than 30% of the population of Mongolia lives below the poverty line, and increasing income inequality and social injustice are fueling resentment against authorities and major political parties.
That could increase opportunities for outsiders candidates like Munkhsoyol Baatarjav of the “Right Person, Right Electorate” coalition, who says the MPP and its main rival, the Democratic Party, have left a legacy of economic mismanagement and corruption.
“It is time for new and skilled people to enter the political scene,” said Baatarjav. “New people of a new generation with a clean reputation and morale can move the country forward,” she said.
Landlocked Mongolia has an enormous wealth of minerals, but has struggled to attract foreign investment due to the sharp fall in commodity prices and high-profile disputes between the government and major investors, such as mining giant Rio Tinto.
Corruption and a bulging national debt of about $ 23 billion, or twice the country’s annual economic output, have also put a major brake on the economy.
Both the MPP and the Democratic Party are full of candidates. In all districts there is also a coalition between the Revolutionary Party of Mongolia and the Green Party of Civil Will, while the National Workers’ Party, the New Party, smaller coalitions and independents are also contesting seats, with many of their candidates trained young and foreign.
For the MPP, the election is about “seeking citizen confirmation of government effectiveness over the past four years,” said Julian Dierkes, an expert in Mongolian politics at the Canadian University of British Columbia. “Other parties and candidates are proclaiming the elections as a referendum on longer-term trajectories and trends. “
The participation of so many new candidates, despite their small chances of winning, means frustration with the two dominant parties and the associated corruption, Dierkes said. The challenge will be to maintain momentum for real change, he said.
“If their participation drives a change in political culture towards more problem-orientation and policy debates, Mongols may see benefits as well. However, if these candidates withdraw from political life for the first time after the elections, the likelihood of a decline in Mongolian democracy seems high, “Dierkes said.
MPP candidates include current Prime Minister Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh, Cabinet Secretary Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene, and former Presidential candidate Badmaanyambuugiin Bat-Erdene. The Democratic Party’s head of state, President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, elected in 2017, is not on the ballot.
Election rules require that at least 20% of candidates nominated by parties or coalitions be women, and while the major parties have an advantage in political funding, lesser-known candidates have used social media to raise their profile.
Although candidates differ little in content, there is a generational shift among voters and candidates, and strong opposition to the alleged corruption of the governing parties. Under the new electoral rules, only four members of parliament may also be cabinet ministers in an effort to separate politics from government.
The MPP is expected to put on a strong show after proving that it is largely proficient in dealing with Mongolia’s many challenges and firmly addressing the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, in which only about 200 imported cases have been recorded with no deaths . However, the country’s financial woes and fickle prices for its commodities, such as copper, along with air pollution in Ulaanbaatar and a lack of jobs, could help the OP to make a profit, despite significant competition between its members.
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