Freedom in the World
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A new coalition government was formed by the MPRP, defectors from the Democratic Party (DP), and several other smaller parties in early 2006. Corruption concerns remained important during the year; several journalists were beaten and detained at an anticorruption demonstration, and other journalists were sued for covering corruption under the country’s defamation laws. Meanwhile, the government continued its pursuit of closer trade relations with both Russia and China.
Once the center of Genghis Khan’s sprawling empire, Mongolia later experienced three centuries of domination by its neighbors. China controlled Mongolia for two centuries until the early 1920s. In 1924, a Soviet-backed Marxist revolt led to the creation of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) and the world’s second single-party Communist state.
Beginning in 1990, however, Mongolia undertook a relatively rapid transition from Soviet satellite state to democratic republic. In response to persistent antigovernment protests, the ruling MPRP legalized opposition parties and held the country’s first multiparty elections. Facing a poorly prepared and underfunded opposition, the MPRP easily won parliamentary elections that year and again in 1992. According to U.S. State Department descriptions, the 1992 constitution established a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system of government.
In 1996, the MPRP was voted out after 72 years in office, and power was transferred peacefully to the Democratic Union Coalition (DUC). The core policies of the DUC, which consisted of the Democratic Party (DP) and the Social Democratic Party, were the implementation of political and economic reforms in the post-Communist period. After an economic downturn the following year, however, the MPRP regained power with victories in both the 1997 election for the largely ceremonial presidency and the 2000 parliamentary vote.
In June 2004, a new Parliament was chosen in elections that were marred by violations and irregularities. A coalition government was formed in September 2004 after the voting gave neither party a majority. Under the compromise deal, Tsakhilganiin Elbegdorj of the Motherland Democracy Coalition (MDC) was named to a second term as prime minister while Natsagiin Bagabandi of the MPRP carried on as president. The MPRP’s Nambaryn Enkhbayar, Speaker of Parliament and a former prime minister, won the presidential election in May 2005 despite street demonstrations by protesters who accused him of corruption and challenged the 2004 poll results.
Mongolia’s first coalition government, formed between the MPRP and the MDC, broke down in January 2006. The MPRP, defectors from the DP, and several other smaller parties joined to form the current government. Miyeegombo Enkhbold of the MPRP was elected as prime minister. With the defection of a formerly Motherland Party parliamentarian to the MPRP, it now holds 50 percent of the seats in Parliament, known as the State Great Assembly, Ulsyn Ikh Khural. In April 2006, the former coalition prime minister was elected as chairman of the DP.
The pace and extent of economic reform has been Mongolia’s primary political issue since the transition to democracy. Market reform began in the early 1990s with the establishment of a fledgling private sector through the privatization of small businesses and the end of collectivized herding. However, these reforms have been ineffective in compensating the economy for the loss of heavy Soviet subsidies; the result has been high unemployment and rampant poverty. Although economic growth is helping to raise living standards for some Mongolians, poverty remains the reality for the majority in both rural and urban areas; some 36 percent of the population lives on less than 75 cents a day.
Building on the progress it made in 2004 by signing agreements on cooperation in trade and banking with China, Mongolia in 2005 and 2006 continued efforts to boost trade with Russia. New economic opportunities have emerged following the settlement of Mongolian debts to the former Soviet Union in 2004, including the expansion and modernization of Mongolia’s railways, the development of a natural gas network in the country, the construction of an electrical power line from Russia to China through Mongolia, and the creation of new mining and processing plants.
Mongolia is an electoral democracy. However, election rules are not firmly established and have often been changed. While the 1992 constitution created a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system, several of Mongolia’s parliamentary elections have been conducted under different electoral systems, varying between multimember and single-member districts. There is concern that rewriting the rules before each election makes it difficult to stabilize the expectations of political elites or enhance popular confidence in democratic government. The 76-member Parliament (the State Great Hural), with the agreement of the president, selects the prime minister, who is nominated by the party or coalition with the most seats. There is no requirement that the prime minister be an elected member of Parliament. Most executive powers are vested in the prime minister. The president, however, can veto legislation, subject to a two-thirds parliamentary override. Both the president and the Parliament are directly elected for four-year terms.
Corruption is a problem in Mongolia. The U.S. State and Commerce departments both have identified “corruption in the [state] bureaucracy” as one of the obstacles affecting economic and political development in Mongolia. Transparency International ranked Mongolia 99 out of 163 countries surveyed in its 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
While the government generally respects freedom of speech and of the press, it has been slow to implement a 1999 law requiring the transformation of state broadcasters into public corporations. The government in October 2005 announced plans to convert Mongol TV and Radio into a public entity, and the outlets remaining in state hands are generally free of political control. The implementation of the plan has been slowed by numerous disputes. Independent print media outlets are common and popular in cities, but the main source of news in the vast countryside is the state-owned Radio Mongolia. Mongolians also have access to local, privately owned television, English-language broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of America on private FM stations, and, in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, foreign television programming via cable and commercial satellite systems. According to U.S. State Department reports, access to the internet is available, and the government does not interfere with its use.
The government monitors all media for compliance with antiviolence, antipornography, and anti-alcohol content restrictions, as well as with tax laws. The government has at times filed libel suits against media outlets or launched tax audits against publications in the wake of critical articles. Mongolian libel law places the burden on the defendant to prove the truth of the statement at issue. To avoid being sued, many independent publications practice a degree of self-censorship. In 2006, two journalists lost court cases brought by plaintiffs named in their articles, but were spared fines due to an amnesty. Another journalist lost a suit brought by a bank after writing that the bank’s president might own shares in the bank. In October 2006, two journalists and two photographers from newspapers were beaten and detained while covering a protest demonstration in Ulaanbaatar. The State Secrets Law inhibits freedom of information to some extent, as many archived historical records have been given a classified status.
Since the fall of communism in 1990, freedom of religion has been guaranteed by the constitution. The new openness has sparked a growth in Mormonism, Russian Orthodoxy, and other Christian sects, as well as a revival of Mongolia’s traditional religions—Buddhism and a native shamanism. The Kazakh Muslim minority, whose population of approximately 100,000 is concentrated in the western part of the country, generally enjoys freedom of religion. However, the government monitors the Kazakh community closely for potential political separatism and has not allowed it to construct a mosque in Ulaanbaatar.
Academic freedom is respected. Mongolian professors and other teachers generally can write and lecture without interference, and access to higher education is relatively free of discrimination.
Freedoms of assembly and association are observed both in law and in practice. A number of environmental, human rights, and social welfare groups, while largely reliant on foreign donors, operate without government restriction. At the invitation of the government, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has made a fact-finding visit, as has the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea. (Small groups of North Koreans continue to enter the country from China. The government does not encourage North Korean refugee inflows, but generally cooperates in sending North Korean refugees who reach Mongolia to safe haven in South Korea.)
Mongolian trade unions are independent and active, though the government’s downsizing or sale of many state factories has contributed to a sharp drop in union membership. Collective bargaining is legal, but with Mongolia’s poor economy, employers enjoy considerable power and often set wages unilaterally. The government prohibits strikes in the utilities, transportation, and law enforcement sectors.
The judiciary is independent, but corruption among judges persists, according to the U.S. State Department’s human rights reports. 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, hold detainees for long periods of time, and beat prisoners; such actions have been more prevalent in rural areas. Both Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department reported on the 2005 case of a prisoner who died eight days after being released from the Gants Hudag detention center with evidence of severe bruising on his body. Relatives claim he was beaten by guards, but the police claim he was beaten by other prisoners. 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 centered on training guards and upgrading facilities is ongoing. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture noted the continued impunity enjoyed by those responsible for torture and other ill-treatment.
With UN Development Program assistance, a local representative in each provincial assembly is responsible for monitoring human rights conditions in that province. Mongolia has a National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) consisting of three senior civil servants nominated by the president, the Supreme Court, and the Parliament for terms of six years. The NCHR reports directly to Parliament and is responsible for monitoring human rights abuses, initiating and reviewing policy changes, and coordinating with human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The NCHR has criticized the government for police abuses, poor prison conditions, lengthy detentions without trial, and other failures to implement laws related to human rights.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and these provisions are generally respected. In addition, the government recognizes all citizens’ rights to travel freely within the country and abroad.
Mongolia has what the United Nations terms a “reverse gender gap,” as women now make up 60 percent of all students at Mongolian universities. This trend, noted by The Chronicle of Higher Education , has been largely attributed to the fact that “[in] this predominantly agricultural country, parents often pull their sons out of school so that they can help with herding duty, long considered a male responsibility.” Although the phenomenon has not carried over into politics—of the 76 parliamentary seats in Mongolia , only 5 are occupied by women—it does indicate “a large pool of highly educated and motivated women,” according to the Alliance for International Women’s Rights. The emphasis on education for Mongolian women represents the improving opportunities available in a country that, under Communist rule, largely excluded women from public life.
Domestic violence has been a serious concern in Mongolia. Although there are no reliable statistics regarding the extent of domestic abuse, the U.S. State Department’s human rights report noted that as much as one-third of the female population may be affected, a situation associated with the high rate of alcohol abuse. Since early 2005, a sweeping new law has prohibited spousal abuse defined as “any intentional act or failure to act by a person … with respect to another person that infringes upon the latter’s human rights, freedom, or any act that causes threat or contains a threat to cause harm.” The law empowers central and local government to investigate complaints and impose a variety of sanctions on offenders, including prohibitions on meeting victims, training aimed at behavioral changes, and treatment for alcoholism. According to U.S. State Department, as of August 2006, 37 cases were prosecuted under the law and all resulted in convictions.