Global populist trend sees ‘fog’ descend on beleaguered Mongolia

By B.Shurentana Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/16 18:18:39

On July 9, the General Election Commission of Mongolia officially announced the result of the country's seventh presidential election. Opposition Democratic Party candidate Khaltmaa Battulga won the election with 50.61 percent of the total vote.

Battulga's victory indicates that populism has taken root in Mongolia.

Many Mongolians who voted for Battulga did not make their decision based on the candidate's policy agenda, or the candidate's capability and experience in politics and governing, or because of personal charisma. Indeed, they voted for their chosen candidate because:

First, the ruling Mongolian People's Party has not fulfilled the promises from its policy agenda during last year's parliamentary election, which disappointed the public. There are no substantial signs that economic conditions are getting better, other than some slight growth from the rising price of raw materials in the international market.

Second, Mongolians have lost confidence in all political parties, and they believe that both the Democratic Party and the Mongolian People's Party are corrupt and untrustworthy.

Reflecting this, a new word has appeared in Mongolia in the past two years - "MAHAH." It's a play on words, combining the abbreviation MAH for the Mongolian People's Party and AH for the Democratic Party.

MAHAH means fog, and indicates the unhealthy political atmosphere engulfing the country. Since neither party is trustworthy, people tend to vote for the opposition party in hopes of counterbalancing the ruling party. Voters hope this will prevent one-party dominance that could lead to further corruption. It's worth noting that one in 12 voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the candidates by leaving their ballot paper blank.

Third, people do not hold high expectations for any candidate. Many Mongolians say that the candidates are all "bad guys," the best they can do is choose the least bad one. Grasping this social mentality, Battulga's camp defamed his opponent as a Mongolian-Chinese "hybrid."

It seems Battulga really understands how to win over the public by discrediting and defaming his opponent with unproven allegations. As many observers have said, this Mongolian election resembled the last presidential election in the US in terms of similar backgrounds of the candidates and the level of "dirtiness."

Ruling party candidate Miyeegombyn Enkhbold is a professional politician who held several major positions both in the government and parliament. Battulga is a former national team wrestler who became a businessman in 1990. Although he also had experience serving as a minister and member of parliament, he has been mostly recognized as a successful businessman, holding majority shares in and owning several big companies.

According to comments on TV and online, this presidential election has been the "dirtiest" campaign ever in Mongolian election history. Candidates have sought every possible way of discrediting and slandering each other, even carrying out personal attacks.

In many aspects, the Mongolian election can be counted as another victory for populism, part of the global trend. Mongolia is trapped in a serious economic crisis. The country is facing many lingering social and economic problems: heavy debts, unemployment, poverty, poor infrastructure and insufficient social welfare programs. The country needs strong and consistent leadership to solve the immediate issue of economic recovery.

Mongolia is a parliamentary state, but the president enjoys quite strong power in comparison to other parliamentary states. Thus, there will be a lot of push and pull between the parliament and the president. Buttulga's election win has further divided the country, and its people.

In terms of Sino-Mongolian relations, Buttulga appears to be a strong nationalist who holds a rather conservative position toward China. Yet, he has been strongly condemned for delaying railway development during his tenure as road and transport minister. He is still essentially a businessman, so rationality rather than radicalism will be the main way for him when approaching China.

The author is a lecturer at the Center for Mongolian Study, Inner Mongolia University.


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