Mongolia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores



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In June 2004, Mongolians voted in their country's fifth parliamentary elections since the fall of communism. The ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) lost more than 30 seats in parliament, and the elections resulted in a political stalemate, as neither the MPRP nor the main opposition party, the Motherland Democracy Coalition, controlled the 39 seats required to form a government. The two parties only formed a coalition government in August.

Once the center of Genghis Khan's sprawling empire, Mongolia was dominated for much of the past three centuries by its neighbors. China controlled Mongolia for two centuries, until 1921. A Soviet-backed, Marxist revolt that year led to the creation in 1924 of a single-party Communist state, the world's second ever, under the MPRP.

Mongolia's transition from Soviet satellite to democratic republic began in 1990, when the MPRP responded to antigovernment protests by legalizing opposition parties and holding the country's first multiparty elections. Facing an unprepared and underfunded opposition, the MPRP easily won parliamentary elections that year and again in 1992. The MPRP was swept out of parliamentary power, after 72 years, in the 1996 elections. However, the policies of the reformist coalition that came into office, combined with steep drops in world prices for two of Mongolia's biggest foreign exchange earners (copper and cashmere), sent inflation and unemployment soaring. As a consequence, the MPRP regained power with victories in the 1997 election for the largely ceremonial presidency and the more important 2000 parliamentary vote.

General elections held in June 2004 resulted in a political impasse, as neither the ruling MPRP party nor the main opposition, the MDC, holds the 39 seats required to form a government. The MDC was accused of bribing voters and engaging in improper polling procedures in some constituencies, leading to demands for a recount of the votes. President Natsagiin Bagabandi called the first session of parliament in early July, but the MPRP refused to attend because the final election results had not been decided; the session was cancelled. Parliament finally met later in July, but not all members of parliament were sworn in because confirmation of the election results in the disputed constituencies were still being awaited. In August, the MPRP finally agreed to form a coalition government with the MDC, and Tsakhilganiin Elbegdorj, a former journalist, began his second term as prime minister.

The key political issue in post-Communist Mongolia has been the pace and extent of economic reform. Market reforms have helped create a fledgling private sector, but also have contributed to soaring unemployment and other social miseries. MPRP governments in the early 1990s privatized small businesses and ended collectivized herding, but had difficulty retooling the economy to survive the loss of Soviet subsidies. Many large firms went bankrupt, and thousands of Mongolians were thrown out of work. Despite strong economic growth in the first half of 2004, poverty is still widespread. Poverty and unemployment remain prime concerns for Mongolians.

Mongolia is actively trying to shore up its foreign relations. In July 2004, the president, Natsagiin Bagabandi, visited neighboring China and spoke with the Chinese prime minister and vice president on furthering diplomatic relations and increasing cooperation on both the international and the regional level. The two countries also signed agreements on cooperation in trade and banking. Later that month, Bagabandi visited the United States to talk with President George W. Bush about international security, foreign aid to Mongolia, and increased bilateral cooperation. To further this last goal, the two countries signed a trade and investment framework agreement. US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly visited Mongolia in November, demonstrating the US's growing awareness of the country - situated between Russia and China and with cordial relations with North Korea - as strategically important.

In January 2004, Russia's foreign minister visited Mongolia and discussed regional security and integration with his Mongolian counterpart, Luvsangiin Erdenechuluun. Bagabandi said in July that he planned to visit Russia by the end of 2004, though this had not occurred as of December. The biggest problem concerning friendly relations between the two countries, Mongolia's huge Soviet-era debt to Russia, has been resolved: Russia agreed in December 2003 to write off most of the debt, and Mongolia repaid the remaining $250 million in January 2004.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Mongolians can change their government through elections. The 1992 constitution created a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system. Most executive powers are vested in a prime minister, who is chosen by the party or coalition with the most seats in parliament. The president, however, must approve parliament's choice of prime minister and can veto legislation, subject to a two-thirds parliamentary override. Both the president and the 76-seat parliament, known as the Great Hural, are directly elected for four-year terms.

Mongolia was ranked 85 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index. The Index shows a decline in Mongolia's standing over the past five years; the country was ranked 43 out of 99 countries in the 1999 survey. Luvsandendev Sumati, the head of the Mongolian good-governance organization Sant Maral Foundation, attributed the decline to increased levels of poverty. The U.S. Department of Commerce cites "corruption in the bureaucracy" as an impediment to business.

Mongolia's press is largely free but faces some government pressure. The 1999 media law banned the censorship of public information, and newspapers and magazines carry a wide range of party and independent views that often criticize the government. The government, however, has at times filed libel suits and launched tax audits against publications in the wake of critical articles. Libel charges are hard to defend against because Mongolian law places the burden on the defendant to prove the truth of the statement at issue. In this environment, many journalists practice some degree of self-censorship. In April 2004, a journalist with an independent newspaper was fined and given a three-month prison sentence for libel against a member of parliament and a former police chief. The local independent press as well as international organizations such as Reporters Sans Frontieres protested, and the journalist was released after serving just 23 days of her sentence.

While newspapers are popular in cities, the main source of news in the vast countryside is the state-owned Radio Mongolia. Although most radio and television stations remained state-owned, they are generally free of political control. For example, following the June 2004 general elections, the ruling party used the media to convince the electorate that the opposition, the MDC, had bribed voters and otherwise engaged in unfair electioneering. In response, the MDC demanded media access to put forward its own case, and was granted 20 minutes of free air time per day. The government has, however, been slow to comply with a 1999 law requiring state broadcast media to be transformed into public corporations.

Besides the state broadcast services, Mongolians have access to local private television, English-language broadcasts of the BBC and Voice of America on private FM stations, and, in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, foreign television on cable and commercial satellite systems. Political reporting by both print and broadcast journalists is hampered by limited access to official information and a lack of transparency in government. Internet access is available and is not hampered by government interference.

In an effort to further Mongolia's "strengthening democratic parliament" project, the government began broadcasting parliamentary meetings directly to the public on cable television in May 2004.

Mongolians of all faiths worship freely in this mainly Buddhist nation, although proselytizing is limited by law. Some religious groups seeking to fulfill mandatory registration requirements, however, have faced demands for bribes by local officials, according to the U.S. State Department's human rights report for 2003, released in February 2004. Mongolian professors and other teachers generally can write and lecture freely.

The country has many active environmental, human rights, and social welfare groups, though most depend on foreign donors. Freedom of assembly is respected in law and in practice. Mongolian trade unions are independent and active, though the government's slimming down or sale of many state factories has contributed to a sharp drop in union membership, to less than half the workforce. Collective bargaining is legal, but with Mongolia's poor economy, employers enjoy considerable leverage and often set wages unilaterally. The government prohibits strikes in sectors that it considers essential, including utilities, transportation, and law enforcement. Laws on child labor and workplace health and safety are poorly enforced. Private land ownership is not permitted, although the law allows land to be leased for up to 100 years.

The judiciary is independent, but corruption among judges persists, according to the U.S. State Department report. In a holdover from the country's Communist past, defendants are not presumed innocent.

Although the constitution prohibits unlawful arrest and detention, Mongolia's police force, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, has been known to make arbitrary arrests, keep detainees for long periods of time, and beat prisoners and detainees. Such actions were more prevalent in rural areas. Corruption in the police force remains a problem. The military, which has been downsized because of budgetary constraints, is under the aegis of the Ministry of Defense. Prisons have in recent years been outfitted with video monitoring systems, decreasing the incidence of beatings by guards. Nevertheless, deaths in prisons continue to be reported; these are due largely to disease - often tuberculosis - exacerbated by poor conditions like insufficient food, heat and medical care. A prison reform program centering on training guards and upgrading facilities is ongoing.

The constitution prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and these provisions are generally respected. In addition, the government respects all citizens' rights to travel freely within the country and abroad.

Men and women have equal rights in all areas under the constitution. Although women are well-integrated in the workforce, domestic violence continues to be a serious problem, affecting as much as one-third of the female population, according to the U.S. State Department Report.