Home » Bagana, Issue 4, Politics

Political parties 101

[8 November 2010 | Б.Жаргалан]

In early 2010, the MPRP’s Presidential candidate Nambaryn Enkhbayar, who lost the election to the Democratic Party’s Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, began making TV appearances to air his grievances. He went as far as to say that Sanjaagiin Bayar, who was both Prime Minister and the Chairman of the MPRP at the time, was personally responsible for sabotaging his chances of winning the election by making under the table deals with his opponent. Bayar publicly retaliated by blaming Enkhbayar of seeking personal rehabilitation by falsely accusing his own party. Their well-publicized feud was something new for the MPRP, which never aired its dirty laundry in public. Usually it was the Democrats, whose internal strife was never a secret, who accused each other of wrongdoing. If the Democrats always defended their conflicts as sign of internal democracy, the MPRP was used to relying on party discipline to squash signs of internal conflict.

Party factionalism is nothing new for Mongolia. In fact, the current coalition government is a by-product of negotiations between influential factions of the two major parties. The fragmented nature of Mongolian politics harkens back to the early days of Mongolian democracy. “Nine Seventy Six” magazine looks at the historical evolution of Mongolian political parties with a special emphasis on party factions and their leaders.

We like to boast that Mongolians invented everything from paper money to pizza. Some people even go as far as to say that democracy is a Mongolian invention. They point to the fact that Chingis Khaan was “elected” khan by the Great Khuraldai as evidence of a long history of democratic tradition in Mongolia (apparently these people haven’t heard of a little town called Athens). Thirteenth century evidence notwithstanding, democratic elections in Mongolia are a relatively recent phenomenon: we celebrated the 20th anniversary of free elections last July.

One of the first acts ratified by the People’s Great Khural of 1990, Mongolia’s first freely elected parliament, was the Law on Political Parties. Up until then, the unlimited political power of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) was guaranteed by the Constitution: the preamble to the 1960 Constitution declared it to be the country’s guiding force and shining light (perhaps not exactly in those words, but something to that effect).

When the third wave of democratization hit Mongolia, the special privileges of the MPRP were stripped away, and new political parties were formed to compete with it. As a result, more than 30 parties have registered with the Supreme Court of Mongolia since 1990. Seventeen parties currently remain active. Although a total of twelve parties competed in the 2008 parliamentary election, only four were able to secure seats: the MPRP ended up with 45 seats, the Democrats with 28 seats, and the Civil Will Party, the Green Party and an independent candidate split the remaining 3 seats.

Since the MPRP and the Democratic Party are the only political parties in Mongolia with wide national representation, they are also the most divided. Established in 1921, the MPRP is Mongolia’s oldest political organization. When multi-party elections were legalized in 1990, it was the only party with a sophisticated network of party cells and members. All the other parties had to build their networks from scratch, which greatly hindered their performance in elections. Today, only the Democratic Party can rival the MPRP with its nationwide network of party organizations, while the rest of the parties are still mainly concentrated in UB. It could be argued that Mongolia’s first past the pole electoral system has aided the rise of two large opposing parties, although lately there has been talk of revising election laws in favor of a proportional system of representation. Our look at Mongolian parties is limited to the MPRP and the Democratic Party given the current political situation.

MPRP (Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party)

The Old Guard

In the early 1990s, the MPRP had a serious advantage compared to others: its name was almost synonymous with political power given the fact that it ruled singlehandedly for almost 80 years. This was especially true for older people and the conservative rural population. Plus, its leaders were well known to the electorate, which enabled the MPRP to gain an overwhelming majority in the parliament in the 1990 and 1992 elections. Most of the MPRP candidates in these elections were old-timers who had held high positions in the communist government. For instance, Dashiin Byambasuren, Mongolia’s Prime Minister during the turbulent years of 1990-1992, had served as Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers in 1989, and Mongolia’s first President Punsalmaagiin Ochirbat had served as Chairman of the State Commission for Foreign Economic Relations from 1985 until 1990. Interestingly enough, both Byambasuren and Ochirbat, who have made their careers through the ranks of the MPRP, later joined the Democratic Party.

In some eastern European countries, Communist parties were dismantled and reorganized from within after the fall of communism. MPRP leaders did not take this route; instead, they simply rewrote their platform. The rebranding took place during the party’s Extraordinary Congress, convened in April 1990, shortly after the Politburo resigned acquiescing to the demands of hunger strikers. Unwilling to give up its power, the Extraordinary Congress announced that the MPRP was ready to lead the country towards a new future.

When the first free election was held on July 22, 1990, the MPRP was easily able to capture the majority vote. Although it had enough seats to independently form the government, the MPRP voted in favor of a coalition government. Davaadorjiin Ganbold, leader of the newly formed Mongolian National Progress Party, became chief Deputy Prime Minister in Dashiin Byambasuren’s cabinet, and Dambiin Dorligjav of the Mongolian Democratic Party became a Deputy. A coalition government ensured legitimacy and political stability for the MPRP, which was still seen as the bulwark of communist values.

1990 was a difficult time for Mongolia, and Byambasuren’s cabinet was appointed with the hard task of economic reform. Trade with former socialist countries almost ceased, and the economy was disintegrating. Byambasuren and his deputies began to take steps to liberalize the economy, privatizing government property and livestock. The infamous Act No. 20, which partially freed price controls, devastated the people as it devalued their life savings. To make things worse, dealers at the Bank of Mongolia lost more than 30 million USD in foreign exchange deals in 1991. This was a significant chunk of the country’s foreign reserves. Chief Deputy Prime Minister Ganbold, a trained economist who actively engaged in policy issues, became the MPRP’s scapegoat for these mistakes, which eventually led to its overwhelming victory in the 1992 election.

After winning this pivotal election 71 to 5, the MPRP formed a government of its own led by Puntsagiin Jasrai. Budragchaagiin Dash-Yondon was the Chairman of the MPRP at the time. While Jasrai was busy reassuring people that he could see “light at the end of the tunnel” (a blithely optimistic reference to the economic situation), Dash-Yondon, a philosophy professor, tried to reposition his party to the center-left by citing the subject of his studies – the teachings of the ancient Indian philosopher Nagarjuna. This attempt to extricate the party from its Marxist-Leninist roots proved to be ill-fated. It didn’t help that the economic situation wasn’t improving under Jasrai’s government, and the MPRP suffered a blowing defeat in the 1996 election. The mighty MPRP was now a minority in the parliament for the first time in its history (it captured 26 seats to the Democratic Union’s 50).

The House of Enkhbayar

This unexpected defeat stirred things up at the party headquarters. Before the election results rolled in, nobody actually believed that the Democratic Union could win. The younger members of the MPRP began to pressure Dash-Yondon to resign and take responsibility for the defeat. They saw an opportunity to take matters in their own hands, and the defeat created an opening. Nambaryn Enkhbayar, who served as Minister of Culture in Jasrai’s cabinet, began to actively lobby for “party renewal”, which was a euphemism for the resignation of party leaders.

However, the party Plenum’s choice for its Chairman was Natsagiin Bagabandi, Speaker of the previous Parliament. He was the MPRP’s designated candidate for the presidential election. It was imperative for the MPRP to win this election; another defeat would have dealt a tremendous blow to party morale. Although Bagabandi beat Enkhbayar to the post of party Chairman, he was pressured to appoint him as Secretary General.

The events of 1996-1997 increased factionalism within the MPRP. Despite getting snubbed, Enkhbayar began to consolidate his power; he was supported by the members of the old guard as well some of the younger members of the party, such as Chultemiin Ulaan. In the summer of 1997, Bagabandi was duly elected President, and the struggle for power resumed again. It was rumored that Bagabandi favored Sanjaagiin Bayar, one of his loyalists, for the Chairman post; however, Enkhbayar was able to garner enough support to win control of the party. As a result, Bagabandi brought Sanjaagiin Bayar to the office of the President, appointing him Head of the Office of President.

At the time, the Democratic government was struggling to keep afloat. The MPRP was happy to aid the Democrats in undermining one another, and President Bagabandi did his part by refusing to sign off on Democratic nominations for Prime Minister as one government after another collapsed. Meanwhile, Enkhbayar was busy rehabilitating his party’s image. The MPRP successfully joined the Socialist International in 1999, and party leaders emphasized renewal and regeneration since it was important for them to dismiss the MPRP’s communist image in order to appeal to younger voters.

Nambaryn Enkhbayar

Once Mongolia’s most authoritative figure, Enkhbayar has now joined the ranks of regular citizens. Nevertheless, he is still clamoring for political power, waging a public feud with current party leaders. Enkhbayar still has supporters in the MPRP, and he may yet attempt to take back control. If this fails, he could establish a party of his own.

In retrospect, Enkhbayar’s rise to power was somewhat unexpected. A lowly translator (albeit with a degree from the distinguished Maxim Gorkii Institute of Literature), Enkhbayar was an unlikely successor to the career apparatchiks of the MPRP. He began his career with the Mongolian Writers’ Union, rising through the ranks to eventually lead the organization. At this time, he began studying English, which later proved to be an important asset. Although he may not have had the prerequisite elite background, he was young, and he possessed enough political acumen to gain influence within the party. As Minister of Culture in Jasrai’s government, he projected an image of a man in touch with Mongolia’s historical and cultural heritage, a trait that most MPRP leaders lacked. Having translated Buddhist works early in his career, he highly publicized his role in re-building the Megjid Janraisig statue of the Gandantegchilen Monastery, which was torn down by the MPRP in its early days. In fact, Buddhism became an important part of his image, and it greatly aided his popularity as Mongolians increasingly turned to religion in lieu of communist ideals. In terms of ideology, Enkhbayar began to cite Tony Blair’s “Third way” as inspiration for his policies.

In 2000, Enkhbayar’s efforts succeeded with flying colors as the MPRP won an overwhelming majority in the parliament, capturing 71 out of 76 seats. As expected, Enkhbayar became Prime Minister and appointed his allies, including Chultemiin Ulaan, Tsendiin Nyamdorj and Ulziisaikhany Enkhtuvshin, to his cabinet. The era of the House of Enkhbayar began.

Once again, the MPRP had unlimited power: it now controlled both the parliament and the presidency (Bagabandi was re-elected President in 2001). The Democrats were reduced to a paltry opposition, and Enkhbayar was free to preside over all decisions. He created a Deputy Minister position at every Ministry, and it was rumored that they were for sale (interestingly enough, the current Prime Minister Sukhbaataryn Batbold joined the MPRP and became Deputy Minister of Foreign Relations in Enkhbayar’s cabinet in 2000). In terms of policy, Enkhbayar’s government actively publicized its “Millennium road” project, while Minister of Finance Chultemiin Ulaan began to centralize budgetary decisions.

On New Year’s Eve of 2004, Enkhbayar surprised everyone by announcing that Mongolia’s Soviet-era debt to Russia has been fully settled. Although many Mongolians have disputed the so-called Grand Debt, estimated at 11.4 billion convertible rubles, the debt settlement was received jubilantly – the Russian government unexpectedly agreed to write off 98 percent of the debt by accepting a one-time payment of 250 million USD. However, the deal has been clouded with secrecy, and it was rumored that negotiators on both sides have pocketed a substantial chunk of the money.

As his power grew, Enkhbayar began to alienate members of his own party. People spoke of a “cult of personality”, and Enkhbayar’s wife Onongiin Tsolmon was highly criticized for her interference with decision-making. By 2004, Enkhbayar’s image had greatly suffered. As a result, the MPRP didn’t perform as expected in the 2004 parliamentary election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Thus, a Grand Coalition government, an alliance between the MPRP and the “Motherland – Democracy Union”, a coalition of Democratic forces, was formed, and the coalition partners agreed to appoint a candidate of their choice as Prime Minister in two year intervals. Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj first assumed the post on behalf of “Motherland-Democracy”, and while he was to be succeeded by an MPRP candidate in 2006, he didn’t last the full two years.

During negotiations for a Grand Coalition, Enkhbayar carved out a niche for himself by securing his appointment as Speaker of the Parliament. But this wasn’t enough: he had his eye on the presidency. At the time, the media speculated that Enkhbayar desired to become President with a view of altering the Constitution and creating a presidential system. As the 2005 presidential election neared, Enkhbayar succeeded in getting himself nominated from the MPRP. When Enkhbayar emerged victorious from the Presidential election of 2005, the party Chairman position was left open.

The Battle for Power

In 1998, Enkhbayar was instrumental in appointing a relative unknown, Miyegombyn Enkhbold, to the lucrative post of Ulaanbaatar’s mayor. Despite being considered young and inexperienced, Enkhbold began building a political base of his own through his city connections. Although he didn’t officially attach himself to any one faction, he eventually became Enkhbayar’s designated successor due to his increasing clout in the party. Enkhbold faced Sanjaagiin Bayar in internal elections in 2005, and he managed to secure the seat despite strong support for Bayar. This time around, Sanjaagiin Bayar became the party’s Secretary General.

Miyegombyn Enkhbold, Deputy Prime Minister

Deputy Prime Minister Enkhbold may be Sukhbaataryn Batbold’s strongest opponent given his vast network of supporters in the MPRP.  Only 46 years old, Enkhbold is still relatively young, thus his ambition will not be quenched by a second tier position, and he may attempt a takeover before the next election.

The new Chairman promptly began lobbying for Elbegdorj’s resignation, and succeeded in ousting his government by allying with a group of Democratic MPs who broke off from “Motherland-Democracy”. Enkhbold, who gathered a loyal following in the MPRP during his seven-year stint as city mayor, became Prime Minister. While in power, Enkhbold strengthened his grip on the party, building his own faction, colloquially called “the city group”. As Enkhbold consolidated his power, his relationship with Enkhbayar began to deteriorate.

Threatened by Enkhbold’s growing power, President Enkhbayar sided with his former opponent Sanjaagiin Bayar to oust Enkhbold’s cabinet, who also lost his party Chairmanship to Bayar. As expected, the party Congress voted for Bayar to lead the government. Enkhbold was often characterized as a very pragmatic man who gets things done, yet Bayar’s image of an intellectual and ideologue seemed more in keeping with the MPRP type.

Sanjaagiin Bayar’s sudden appointment somewhat enhanced MPRP ratings. While both Enkhbayar and Enkhbold’s offices were tainted with rumors of rampant corruption, Bayar was seen as relatively “clean”. He was also a very shrewd politician, who knew how to maneuver himself out of bad situations. In fact, Bayar is a fine specimen of what Mongolians call “Russian-schooled” – he graduated from a Russian high school in UB, going on to study at the prestigious Moscow State University, and, of course, he knew how to drink vodka and curse like the Russians. Not only that, but he served as Mongolia’s ambassador to Russia for four years (2001-2005), when Mongolia’s so-called “Great Debt” was being settled. The opposition decried his ties with the Russians when Bayar lobbied to allow the Russian oil giant “Rosneft” to build 100 gas stations throughout the country. It is also interesting that Russian papers cried foul when Mongolia finally signed an agreement with Ivanhoe Mines and Rio Tinto over Oyu Tolgoi. According to “Kommersant”, a Russian daily newspaper, “senior Mongolian officials promised a controlling stake in Oyu Tolgoi to the Russian side”. In light of these developments, Bayar’s image began to wane.

Sanjaagiin Bayar, Member of Parliament

Given the peculiar circumstances of his transfer of power, it is unlikely that Bayar will once again lust for the number one position in the MPRP. Although people still perceive Batbold as one of Bayar’s “people”, it would be difficult for Bayar to keep his influence; after all, Batbold now holds all the cards, and when one is that powerful, one does not look back.

As the election neared, Bayar proceeded to wage an expensive campaign against the Democrats. When the results of the 2008 parliamentary election were publicized, the MPRP was accused of vote-rigging, and protestors took to the streets on July 1, 2008. The mob rushed to MPRP headquarters, throwing stones and demanding an explanation from Bayar himself. As the building was set ablaze, MPRP leaders left through the back door. President Enkhbayar finally declared a state of emergency; nevertheless, five people were killed.

The protest seriously damaged MPRP’s legitimacy: at the end of the day, an MPRP government would not be legitimate enough to give the go-ahead on Oyu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi, the two huge projects on government’s agenda. Thus, Bayar devised an ingenious plan: another coalition government, even though his party had more than enough seats to comfortably control the cabinet. A coalition government would not only make things more palatable to the public, but it would also facilitate faster decision-making. The Democrats bought it, and the second Coalition government was born. As they say, the rest is history.

Although Bayar’s government successfully oversaw the historic signing of the Oyu Tolgoi agreement, he stepped down on October 28th, 2009. Many questioned his intentions, but Bayar gave his failing health as reason for his retirement. Sukhbaataryn Batbold, a prominent businessman and a relative newcomer to politics, was the MPRP (and Bayar)’s choice for leading the government. Batbold’s political career began in 2000, when he became Deputy Minister of Foreign Relations in Enkhbayar’s cabinet. In contrast with the previous leaders of the MPRP, whose careers had been entrenched in party politics, Batbold is not a party boss, and thus his influence in the MPRP may be limited. Although people feel weary about his involvement in the Boroo gold and Tavan Tolgoi projects, some say that his business acumen will be an asset to the government.

Sukhbaataryn Batbold, Prime Minister and Chairman of the MPRP

To many, Batbold’s rise to power came as a surprise. His political career began in 2000, when he was appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Relations in Enkhbayar’s government. Although many associated him with Enkhbayar’s faction, he later aligned himself with Sanjaagiin Bayar, eventually gaining his endorsement. He still has limited influence in the MRPP, thus his career hinges upon building a large enough support base in the party.

Today, Prime Minister Sukhbaataryn Batbold is the Chairman of the MPRP, and Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh is the Secretary General. Khurelsukh began his career at the MPRP in 1991, working his way up. For many years, he served as president of the MPRP’s much maligned youth union, and was first elected to the Parliament in 2000 at age 32, later serving as cabinet Minister. He wasn’t nominated in the 2008 elections because his chances of being elected were considered ruined by the Savings Bank scandal, in which many members of the MPRP’s youth union were implicated. Compared to Batbold, Khurelsukh’s entire career has been intertwined with the MPRP. Three years ago, he formalized his support base by establishing an NGO called the Union of Left Wing Forces.

Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh, Secretary General of the MPRP

Khurelsukh may be one of the most ambitious members of the MPRP’s new generation. A career politician, he has the ability to rally party members to his support as Secretary General, thus he could become a strong contender for the number one position given Batbold’s weak support base.

Looking back, it’s apparent that party factionalism in the MPRP is a by-product of a revolving roster of individual leaders, who rally members to their support. Keeping the party in check is a crucial skill set for a would-be MPRP leader, and it’s unclear whether Sukhbaataryn Batbold possesses enough political acumen to keep himself in power. To complicate matters further, Enkhbayar still has a formidable support base, while the next generation of party leaders, Khurelsukh et al, is impatiently waiting for their turn at the table.

The Democratic Party

The Four Movements

When the political climate thawed in the late 1980s, people began to formally organize. As of early 1990, four separate movements emerged: the Mongolian Democratic Association (Mongolyn Ardchilsan Kholboo), the Social-Democratic Movement (Ardchilsan Socialist Khudulguun), the New Progress Association (Shine Devshilt Kholboo), and the Mongolian Students Association (Mongolyn Oyutny Kholboo). They came together for the first time on March 4th, 1990 in a public rally attended by tens of thousands of supporters, and issued a proclamation demanding multi-party elections. This document became known as the proclamation of the four movements. Since these pro-reform movements laid the foundation for today’s Democratic Party, it may be of interest to briefly outline their origins.

The inaugural Congress of the Mongolian Democratic Association, the first officially organized reformist movement, was held on February 18, 1990. They emphasized political freedom, including multi-party elections and freedom of press. In terms of economic policy, they proclaimed that the MPRP has failed to achieve the goals of socialism, thus a renewed conceptual framework for a true socialist economy was needed. The Mongolian Democratic Association frequently organized mass protests, which were usually accompanied by the song “Bell Ringing”, performed by the now legendary band “Bell”. Known by their Mongolian acronym “MoAKh”, members of the Democratic Association co-founded the Mongolian Democratic Party, which won 16 seats in the parliament in the 1990 election, and one of its members, Dambiin Dorligjav, became Deputy Prime Minister in Dashiin Byambasuren’s cabinet.

If МоАKh concentrated on political reform, the New Progress Association focused on the economic side of things. It was first established by the members of the Young Economists’ Club founded by the younger employees of the Bank of Mongolia, Ministry of Finance, National Planning Commission and other finance related organizations. At their meetings, they mainly discussed issues of private ownership, free-market economy and economic liberalization. Members of the New Progress Association eventually co-founded the Mongolian National Progress Party, known by its Mongolian acronym “MUDN”, which won 6 seats in the parliament in the 1990 election. As a result, Davaadorjiin Ganbold became Chief Deputy Prime Minister in Dashiin Byambasuren’s cabinet.

The Social Democratic Movement was a grouping of university teachers, many of them mathematicians and physicists. They adhered to a social democratic worldview, and lobbied for welfare reform. Its members co-founded the Mongolian Social Democratic Party, or “MSDN”, which won 4 seats in the 1990 election, and its member Radnaasumbereliin Gonchigdorj was elected Vice-President of Mongolia by the Great Khural.

Although the Mongolian Students Association did not evolve into a full-fledged political party, many of its leaders later joined the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Experiment

In the 1992 election, “MoAKh”, “MUDN” and the Green party formed a coalition, which brought them 4 seats in the parliament, and “MSDN”, which ran separately, won 1 seat. The Democrats suffered their first blowing defeat and had to regroup if they were ever to overthrow the MPRP. Thus, while Puntsagiin Jasrai’s government was struggling to keep the Mongolian economy afloat, the Democrats began unifying. Election allies “MoAKh”, “MUDN” and two other parties merged to found a new party, the Mongolian National Democratic Party (Mongolian acronym: “MUAN”). Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj and Davaadorjiin Ganbold competed for the post of party Chairman with Elbegdorj winning the vote. Although “MSDN”, one of the original four movements of 1990, didn’t officially join them, it entered the grand coalition of pro-democracy forces, the Democratic Union (Ardchilsan Kholboo), just in time for the parliamentary election of 1996. At the end, the Democratic Union captured 50 seats in the Parliament, which gave it a two thirds majority. The MPRP was crushed.

As Mongolia’s first opposition government, the Democrats initiated a radical economic liberalization and reform program. In 1997, most urban housing, which was ostensibly owned by the government, was transferred to their legal tenants free of charge. As a result, more than 80 thousand families became property owners. Influenced by free market economists, the Union’s first government, led by Mendsaikhany Enkhsaikhan, abolished all trade tariffs, fully liberalizing Mongolia’s trade structure. Although this was hailed by some as an extremely bold move, imported goods soon flooded the market, causing the few domestic factories to go bankrupt. An ambitious banking reform also led to bankruptcies, as several banks failed due to an overwhelming amount of bad loans and poor management.

On top of policy issues, the Democratic Union itself has proved to be politically precarious. Forced to ally for electoral reasons, the Democrats didn’t have a unified vision for leading the country. They also haggled among themselves for cabinet positions, and no one leader was acceptable to everybody. At the end, Prime Minister Enkhsaikhan was overthrown in less than two years. The MPRP took advantage of the Democrats’ internal struggles, and facilitated the overthrow of multiple Democratic cabinets. Thus, Enkhsaikhan was succeeded by Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, who was succeeded by Janlavyn Naratsatsralt, who was in turn succeeded by Rinchinnyamyn Amarjargal.

What led to this instability? While Enkhsaikhan’s downfall was mainly attributed to his refusal to follow party policy, there were internal reasons as well. In 1996, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj was the Chairman of the Democratic Party. Although Elbegdorj desired to lead the government, the party decided to nominate Enkhsaikhan, who was essentially a compromise candidate without strong ties to any of the factions. There was still residual resentment at this oversight, thus the question of “Shouldn’t the Chairman of the party lead the government?” lingered in the air.

When Enkhsaikhan eventually lost his post to Elbegdorj, he gathered his supporters to plan an overthrow of his own. Nicknamed “Sand’s 13” (Steven Soderbergh must have been closely following Mongolian politics when he planned “Ocean’s 11”), Enkhsaikhan’s supporters teamed up with the MPRP to bring down Elbegdorj’s cabinet.

As the Democratic Union slowly disintegrated, one of the early leaders of “MoAKh”, Sanjaasurengiin Zorig, was murdered. At the time, rumors of his possible appointment as Prime Minister were widely circulated (he had been Minister of Infrastructure in Narantsatsralt’s crumbling cabinet). Police investigation revealed nothing. To make matters worse, three MPs from the Democratic Union were charged with corruption in conjunction with the infamous “casino hearings” and sent to jail. People began to reminisce for the MPRP’s iron rule, which was finally delivered to them in 2000, ending the short-lived Democratic experiment.

The Battle for Power

After the 2000 election, ex-coalition parties began meeting again. Although one election was lost, another was coming up: the presidential election of 2001. According to the Constitution, only parties holding seats in the Parliament can nominate candidates to the presidency. MUAN was represented in the parliament, but MSDN wasn’t. Thus, its Chairman Radnaasumbereliin Gonchigdorj, who had his eye on the Presidential election, was ready to negotiate a merger.

On December 06th, 2000, the Democratic Party was born. Besides MUAN and MSDN, three other parties joined. Dambiin Dorligjav, a MoAKh representative, became Chairman of the party, and Gonchigdorj won the party nomination for the presidential election. Unfortunately, Gonchigdorj lost to the incumbent Natsagiin Bagabandi by a wide margin, crushing the hopes of the Democrats.

In 2002, Mendsaikhany Enkhsaikhan succeeded Dorligjav as party Chairman. In preparation for the upcoming parliamentary election, Enkhsaikhan began meeting with Badarchiin Erdenebat, the leader of the “Motherland – MNSDP” party. The founder of “Erel” group, a prominent business entity with interests in mining, finance and construction, Erdenebat entered politics in 2000, founding his own party and waging an expensive election campaign. As a result, “Motherland” received 11 percent of the popular vote in 2000, which translated to one seat in the parliament, Erdenebat’s own. Unbeknownst to the Democratic Party leaders, Enkhsaikhan secretly negotiated with his friend Erdenebat to form a coalition for the 2004 election, promising his party 25 electoral districts. This led to more conflict in the Democratic Party, which could now only nominate 51 candidates.

At this time, ex-MSDN members of the Democratic Party founded the “Altangadas” association, ostensibly a non-governmental organization. Although members of Altangadas assured the press that they didn’t have political objectives, Altangadas became an unofficial faction of the former MSDN in the Democratic Party.

As the 2004 election came close, candidate nomination became a thorny issue for the Democrats. According to Enkhsaikhan’s agreement with Erdenebat, the Democrats were left with a limited number of districts. As a result, some prominent party members, such as Rinchinnyamyn Amarjargal, decided to run independently. When the election results came in, “Motherland – Democracy” coalition ended up with 36 seats – not enough for a majority, even though 3 independent candidates affiliated with the Democratic Party were also elected. If the elected independents ran on behalf of “Motherland-Democracy”, the coalition would have won a majority in the parliament.

The resulting hung parliament led to the Grand Coalition government, a partnership between “Motherland-Democracy” and the MPRP. Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj became Prime Minister, and the two sides equally divided up ministerial positions with an agreement that an MPRP Prime Minister would rule for the second half of the term.

However, internal conflict within the Democratic camp escalated. In December, 2004 its National Committee voted for a change of leadership, and Enkhsaikhan was deposed in favor of Gonchigdorj. Enkhsaikhan didn’t accept the Committee’s decision, and the resulting stand-off led to the dissolution of the “Motherland-Democracy” coalition. After months of going back and forth, an agreement was finally reached: the Democratic Party would back Enkhsaikhan for the presidential election, and Gonchigdorj was to remain party Chairman. In the summer of 2005, Enkhsaikhan, who campaigned on anti-corruption platform, lost the presidential election to Nambaryn Enkhbayar.

Soon after, Enkhsaikhan and Erdenebat teamed up with Miyegombyn Enkhbold’s MPRP to bring down Elbegdorj’s government. The days of the Grand Coalition were over. Enkhsaikhan, who became Deputy Prime Minister in Enkhbold’s government, was banished from the Democratic Party and went on to found UShN, the National New Party. Lamjavyn Gundalai, who was first elected to the Parliament in 2000 as an independent, while later becoming a Democrat, also left the Democrats to found his own party. He became Minister of Health in Enkhbold’s cabinet, only to be ousted a year later.

The Democratic Party had to wait for the next election. In the meantime, ex-Prime Minister Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj was elected Chairman. This time around, the Democrats didn’t form coalitions with any other parties (Gundalai dissolved his People’s Party and joined the Democratic ticket in Khuvsgul). Polls showed that Democrats had a good chance of winning the 2008 election. However, election results didn’t meet expectations: the Democrats won 28 seats to the MPRP’s 45, and the remaining 3 seats went to smaller parties and independents.

Nevertheless, the MPRP’s Sanjaagiin Bayar wished to form a coalition with the Democrats in light of July 1st events. Norovyn Altankhuyag, the informal leader of the “Altangadas” faction, became Chairman of the Democratic Party and negotiated a coalition government with the MPRP.

Today, the Democratic Party remains deeply fractured along the lines of previous party affiliations, a consequence of its thorny history in opposition to the MPRP. Altangadas, or the former Social Democrats, retains the Chairmanship of the party in the face of Altankhuyag, while MUDN’s Do. Erdenebat is the Secretary General. MoAKh is represented by Sodnomzunduin Erdene, who is the Chairman of the UB branch of the party. Several months ago, former MoAKh and MUDN affiliates have established the Democratic Community Union, an NGO, which analysts believe is their answer to the ascendancy of Altangadas.


Altangadas members are united by one thing: their ambition. Norovyn Altankhuyag, the informal leader of Altangadas, is currently the Chairman of the Democratic Party and the Chief Deputy Prime Minister in Sukhbaataryn Batbold’s government. Influential members of Altangadas include Vice-Speaker of the Parliament and prominent businessman Gavaagiin Batkhuu as well as Sangajavyn Bayartsogt, current Minister of Finance. Altangadas faces serious opposition from the union of MoAKh and MUDN, thus Altankhuyag’s ability to hang on to his Chairmanship may be limited.


Members of MoAKh earned the nickname “guerilla” for their constant need to crusade against the status quo. President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj used to belong to this bunch, although he has given up his party membership after being elected President. MoAKh still has strong support with rank and file party members, thus it can effectively compete with Altangadas when it comes to internal elections. Prominent leaders of the faction include MP Zandaakhuugiin Enkhbold, who is also the head of the newly established Democratic Community Union, and Khaltmaagiin Battulga, Minister of Construction and Urban Development.


MUDN is a very idiosyncratic group, and it still retains its roots of an elite club. Its members are still mostly economists, many of them now prominent businessmen. As such, MUDN is probably the most right-wing, favoring lower taxes and more favorable conditions for business. MUDN’s de-facto leader is MP Nyamjavyn Batbayar, though it boasts a long roster of well-known politicians, such as ex-Prime Minister Rinchinnyamyn Amarjargal and Chairman of State Great Khural’s Standing Committee on Economics, MPTsevelmaagiin Bayarsaikhan. Historically, MUDN’s alignment with any other faction could shift the existing balance of power, but its exclusivity tends to limit its own chances of capturing party leadership.

The Democratic Party’s chances of winning elections hinges on its ability to resolve internal squabbles and present a unified face to the electorate. The tag-along role of the Democrats’ in the current coalition government may hurt their performance in the next election; thus a change in leadership may be in order if the Democrats want to win.


The defining trait of Mongolian politics is the question of leadership, and policy issues are often relegated to the second place. In fact, Mongolian politics is not defined by the struggle between the left and the right as it is the case in most two-party systems. Since both parties have embraced a populist social welfare model, it is almost impossible to differentiate them based on policy issues. Smaller parties often follow their lead, and their chances of survival are slim given the realities of the current electoral system. The parliament is expected to debate several proposals for a new Law on Elections next fall; however, it is difficult to expect the members of ruling parties to vote for radical change.

However, the increasing urbanization and sophistication of the electoral population may eventually push Mongolian parties to concentrate on concrete policy proposals, which may lead to a classical two-party system. Perhaps a re-alignment across party lines may be in order if Mongolian politics is to follow the western model. Until then, it is the law of the jungle: whoever is stronger (read: richer), wins.

According to some, this process may have already started. MPRP leaders have recently indicated that they would like to change their name and adopt the party’s 1920s title Mongolian People’s Party. Its current Chairman Batbold indicated that the party seeks to reposition itself to the right and embrace what he calls a “national democratic platform”. The Democrats have yet to counter their opponent’s re-branding efforts, but more developments may be on their way.

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