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Can Recent Constitutional Reforms Augment Women’s Role in Mongolia’s Democracy?

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Crossroads Asia | Politics | East Asia

Can Recent Constitutional Reforms Augment Women’s Role in Mongolia’s Democracy?

Alongside Mongolia’s overhaul of its electoral system, the country is also bringing back quotas for female candidates, part of a broader effort to promote gender equality.

Can Recent Constitutional Reforms Augment Women’s Role in Mongolia’s Democracy?
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Since its peaceful democratic revolution in 1990, Mongolia has established itself as one of the leading democracies in Asia against a backdrop of rising authoritarianism and increasing geopolitical tensions in the region.

In the hopes of further strengthening Mongolia’s democracy, the Mongolian government recently passed major constitutional reforms, which (among other changes) enlarged the country’s legislative branch from 76 parliamentary members to 126 and introduced a mixed electoral system that allows for party list voting as well as direct elections. Amid the electoral changes, Mongolia is hoping to address long-standing gender parity issues, in politics and beyond.

One amendment to the constitution created a role for Mongolia’s Constitutional Court in reaching a final decision on citizen petitions that allege a breach of constitutional civil rights and freedoms, which include equal rights between men and women, freedom of thought, speech, and peaceful assembly. 

The constitutional reforms also increased the quota for women among party candidates to 30 percent and aims to increase it to 40 percent in the 2028 election. 

Increasing the quota for women was also a major concern for rights groups and civil societies. According to the Global Data on National Parliaments, Mongolia ranked 135rd as of 2020, with just 13 female candidates out of 76 seats, or 17.1 percent female representation in parliament. 

However, Mongolia does have a history of flip-flopping on the issue of a quota for women in politics.

Dr. Mandukhai Buyandelger, a social anthropologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discussed the challenges of the Mongolian female candidates in her book “A Thousand Steps to Parliament.” She highlighted the government’s strategic decision to repeal the 30 percent female candidate quota in the 2008 election, which imposed additional obstacles for women to win a parliamentary seat in the next elections. 

The hope with the new constitutional reform is that the political parties will be incentivized to field women candidates – at least to meet the minimum threshold of 30 percent. If Mongolia were to secure 34 percent of female representatives in the next parliamentary elections, Mongolia could earn the title for the highest proportion of female lawmakers across Asia. 

Of all the countries in Central, South, Southeast, or North Asia, only Nepal, Timor-Leste, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam are currently above the 30 percent mark. The trans-regional average for women’s representation in Asian legislatures is just 21.4 percent. As noted above, Mongolia lags even further behind, at just 17.1 percent.

Beyond the legislative aspect, Mongolia is making efforts in promoting feminist policies, and has been increasingly active in women’s support groups and activities in the international arena. 

In early July, Mongolia hosted the first Female Foreign Ministers meeting in Ulaanbaatar, marking a major representation of women’s participation in diplomacy and their contribution to building and bridging better societies. 

Mongolia’s latest constitutional reforms highlight the country’s efforts in sustaining a commitment to the principles of democracy, ensuring multiparty governance, and giving more space and opportunity for civil society to be fully engaged and participate in the policymaking discussions that shape their lives. Showing interest in Mongolia’s political discourse is not enough; their perspectives, inputs, and participation will define Mongolia’s democracy.

The new constitutional reforms expand the responsibilities of inclusivity, credibility, and transparency. However, it is solely up to the political parties to field electable, trustworthy candidates. If properly implemented, these reforms can provide a strong foundation for the government’s wider social development ambitions, strengthen the democratic foundations of the country by safeguarding citizens’ constitutional rights, promoting women’s representation, and strengthening checks and balances within the electoral and wider political system.