Mongolia: Proving the Naysayers Wrong
Image Credit: Alastair Rae

Mongolia: Proving the Naysayers Wrong


Observers say he is a sure thing. His party hopes he is. In what is a three-way competition, Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj will be seeking to retain power in the presidential election scheduled for June 26, keeping his Democratic Party the dominant force in government at least until the next legislative election.

His main rival is Bat-Erdene, of the opposition Mongolian People's Party. But Elbegdorj is the tried and tested candidate whose political career dates back to the country's democratic beginnings, when he helped launch a democratic revolution in 1990. He’s been prime minister twice, non-consecutively, and is a proponent of foreign investment to keep the Mongolian economy growing.

“The president has to defend his record of the last four years,” says Badral Munkhdul, owner of media group Cover Mongolia.

A mining boom has helped Mongolia achieve tremendous economic growth since Elbegdorj took office in 2009. Exports of coal and copper to China have been the chief driver of GDP growth, which clocked in at 17.5 percent in 2011 and reached 12.3 percent in 2012. But the benefits have exacerbated the gap between rich and poor, leaving many resentful of the industry.

“Generally the country as a whole and the population has benefitted from the recent mining boom,” explains Munkhdul. “Of course, there is a gap between how much the poor are taking advantage and how the rich are. It’s disproportionate.”

Munkhdul believes the Mongolian government has yet to do enough to resolve the disparity. In 2012, when under the control of the Mongolian People’s Party, it tried a quick fix by initiating a cash allowances program. The program, which distributed the equivalent of about $15 a month, proved widely popular. Ironically, say critics, it was also the main culprit for rising inflation, which hurts the poor most. According to the World Bank, annual inflation soared to 14 percent in December 2012.

Elbegdorj’s challenger Bat-Erdene is one of a younger breed of politician who has largely campaigned on the strength of his “clean hands,” although he has not made any specific charges of corruption against the president. His Mongolian People’s Party is the remnant of the communist party that ruled Mongolia for nearly 70 years between 1921 and 1990, and has controlled Mongolia for most of its history as a democracy. The party has seen its influence largely sidelined since being relegated to opposition, and is eager to return to power.

The final challenger, Natsag Udval, is something of a stand-in for the currently incarcerated Nambar Enkhbayar. She has been one of the disgraced former politician's most ardent supporters since his arrest for alleged corruption during his presidency. She also runs on the novelty of being the country's first female candidate for the presidency.

Looking back at Mongolia’s last five presidential elections, its vibrant democracy has emerged from unlikely beginnings. The country is sandwiched between two giants that show little regard for democratic values, yet rather than mirror the policies of either China or Russia – each of which has at some point controlled the nation – Mongolia has instead embraced what is now today a functioning, if flawed, democracy.

June 16, 2013 at 19:36

For Mishmael, you should explore more about Mongolia and your current thought is totally wrong. For Wong and Terrence Edwards, President of us isn't chinese heritage. You may know that we are mongolians and in order to get strength in election campaign of 2009 as former election, his opponent party as Mongolian People's Party made rumor about Elbegdorj's heritage is  Chinese. 

June 14, 2013 at 14:57

As a Mongolian person, I think Mongolia is changing for good direction. Of course we have some problems, but we are nonetheless growing. Mongolia may not be liberal democracy as of western standards and I admit there are several Nazi youth groups in Mongolia, but the majority of mongolian population is more liberal than you would think. With rise of students studying in liberal democracies, Mongolian young generation is not simply individualist nazis. We have growing young generation who are hungry for right type of development. More and more people are getting involved in volunteer activities to create support groups and talk about better changes.

As for response to Wong, Mongolian president is not of Chinese heritage. From international relations perspective, we have to be nice to China. But it doesnt mean we are part of China nor our leaders are Chinese puppets. In fact our foreign policy remained the same since 1990s to treat our to neighbors equally and to have friendly relationship with both. In foreign policy principle this remained the same.

[...] from The Diplomat By Terrence [...]

June 14, 2013 at 14:12

Thank you, Terrence! The discussions in the Chinese blogs about Elbegdorji's Chinese heritage were not about his name - Tsakhia but about his grandfather who moved from Gansu province of China through Xinjiang to western Mongolia. Is mr Elvegdorji from Western Mongolia?

China and many Chinese regard Mongolia as a lost territory that has to be brought back to China. Therefore, I would not be surprised if China finances and supports pro-Chinese politicians in Mongolia including Mr Elbegdorji, the current president of Mongolia. Some bloggers – ethnic Mongolians from China and Mongolians from Mongolia – I think - asserted that Mongolia has many powerful politicians, officials, judges, and entrepreneurs of Chinese heritage. They also mentioned one politician – I do not remember his name – who had hidden Swiss bank accounts, and he is also of Chinese heritage. It is interesting that China and Chinese bloggers are paying so much attention to Mongolia's presidential elections and Mr Ebegdorji's ethnicity. At the end of the day, the ethnicity does not matter – whether he is Chinese or Mongolian. Every country needs a capable president. If quarter-Chinese Mr Elbegdorji wins the elections, so be it!

June 14, 2013 at 12:34

The Chinese are always on the lookout for anything that suggests or proves that someplace or someone actually 'belongs to China'. It's part of their mentality, they can't help it.

I have a problem with your sentences "A protest in Sukhbaatar Square, where Government Palace is located, turned violent. Riots lasted two days and resulted in five deaths as well as the torching of the party’s headquarters."

I was there in 2008. I wasn't actually running with the rioters, but your sentences really present the 'riots' quite differently from what happened. The spark might have come from Sukhbaatar Square, but contrary to the impression you give of rioting in the streets, all the action was actually concentrated around the party headquarters, where a crowd settled in and, through increasing acts of bravado, ended up burning the building down. It was followed on TV from start to finish. Most of the dead were killed by police.



June 14, 2013 at 12:18

There is no need for any country to be a good democracy. The level of democracy should be what each country should decide they should have. But elections for rulers should be a must for all countries.

Terrence Edwards
June 14, 2013 at 11:57

Elbegdorj was indeed accused of being partly Chinese, but it was akin to the birthers movement in the United States. My understanding is the whole point was brought up by a lone journalist who suggested the name Tsakhia sounded kind of Chinese. Elbegdorj even had his mother weigh in to say it was untrue. I'm surprised how widespread this rumor has grown in China.

Terrence Edwards
June 14, 2013 at 11:55


Elbegdorj was indeed accused of being partly Chinese, but it was akin to the birthers movement in the United States. My understanding is the hole point was brought up by a lone journalist who suggested the name Tsakhia sounded kind of Chinese. Elbegdorj even had his mother weigh in to say it was untrue. I'm surprised how widespread this rumor has grown in China.

TV Monitor
June 14, 2013 at 10:45

@ Wong

Surely why not, since China claims Genghis Khan to be Chinese.

[...] Read Here – The Diplomat [...]

June 13, 2013 at 21:17

Mongolia's politis is not that impressive. Half of the population live in UlaanBaatar, living off handouts from the mining industry, while the other half herd animals and have traditionally lived outside of state influence. To say that Mongolia is somehow extraordinary simply because it has un-demoncratic neighbors while itself being a democracy misses the point – Mongolian traditional life has dominated Mongolian society, and it has always retained an element of personal autonomy. It is also ridiculously easy to have a "democracy" when the population is about as homogenous as is possible, and focused on a very small number of issues in which there is broad agreement. Finally, the popularit of Hitler and Nazi-like ideology among the country's youth, especially in UlaanBaatar, indicates a profound disconnect between what people in the West consider "liberal democracy" and what the Mongolians themselves have set up – a regime which primarily concerns itself with a 19-th century view of ethnic nationalism striving to distance itself from its only neighbors.

June 13, 2013 at 20:38

I read on number of Chinese forum discussions that the current president of Mongolia, Mr Tashia Elvegdorji, of Chinese heritage. Apparently, his ancestors moved to Western Mongolia from Chinese province of Gansu through Xinjiang Uighurs autonomous region. If this is true, the Mongolian President is a quarter Chinese. Some say that he carries out China-friendly foreign policy unlike previous Mongolian presidents who often despised china privately.

Does Mr Elvegdorji has a Chinese heritage?   

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