Freedom in the World
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Following initial results that showed victory for the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) in the June 2008 parliamentary elections, several large political demonstrations took place in the capital Ulaanbaatar by those challenging the results. The looting of the MPRPs headquarters and the deaths of several people during the unrest led the government to declare a four-day state of emergency, during which the government arrested and detained hundreds of people and severely curtailed press freedom.
Once the center of Genghis Khan’s sprawling empire, Mongolia was ruled by China for two centuries until Soviet-backed forces took control in the early 1920s. A people’s republic was proclaimed in 1924, and the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) established a one-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. Facing a poorly prepared and underfunded opposition, the MPRP easily won the first multiparty parliamentary elections that year, and won again in 1992. A new constitution in 1992 provided for a president elected by popular vote and a unicameral legislature.
The MPRP was voted out in 1996 after 72 years in office, and power was transferred peacefully to the Democratic Union Coalition (DUC), which consisted of the Democratic Party (DP) and the Social Democratic Party. The DUC sought to implement political and economic reforms, but after an economic downturn the following year, 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 irregularities. A coalition government was formed in September 2004 after the voting gave neither side a majority. Under the compromise deal, former prime minister Tsakhilganiin Elbegdorj of the Motherland Democracy Coalition (MDC)—an alliance between the DP and the Motherland Party—returned to the premiership while Natsagiin Bagabandi of the MPRP carried on as president. The MPRP’s Nambaryn Enkhbayar, the parliament speaker and a former prime minister, won the presidential election in May 2005, despite street demonstrations by protesters who accused him of corruption. In January 2006, the MDC–MPRP coalition government broke down, and the MPRP formed a new government with several small parties and defectors from the DP. Miyeegombo Enkhbold of the MPRP became prime minister.
Prime Minister Enkhbold resigned on November 8, 2007 following an October 26 vote by the MPRP to remove him as its chairman. Opponents blamed Enkhbold for excessive political favoritism and corruption. On November 22, parliament chose Sanjaa Bayar as the next prime minister who pledged to eradicate corruption.
Mongolia held parliamentary elections on June 29, 2008. Initial results declared victory for the MPRP, which captured 44 of the 76 seats; the DP won 26 seats. The DP and it supporters, as well as other smaller parties, challenged the results. After heavy television coverage, small-scale political protests escalated into large demonstrations in the capital Ulaanbaatar. The protests led to the looting of the MPRP headquarters, which was later set on fire; nearby buildings suffered similar destruction. Five people died in the unrest and scores of people were severely injured, including police officers; over 700 people were arrested. The government declared a four day State of Emergency on July 2. On July 14, the General Election Committee announced that the MPRP had won 39 seats and the DP 25 seats; it recommended a recount in some contested constituencies. The final tally in August resulted in MPRP winning 46 seats and DP 27 seats. Next parliamentary election is set for 2012.
Mongolia’s economy has been growing due to its extensive mineral deposits and a rapidly expanding tourism industry. Nevertheless, the country continues to struggle with high unemployment and rampant poverty stemming in part from ineffective market reforms in the 1990s. In October 2007, President Enkhbayar visited U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington and signed a Millennium Challenge Compact that committed $285 million in aid; the bulk of the aid ($188.3 million) is for rail projects. According to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Mongolia scored well above the median (median is 50 percent) in the three categories used to determine country eligibility for MCC assistance: ruling justly, investing in people, and economic freedom. Real GDP growth estimate for 2008 was 8.9 percent, and inflation reached 28 percent.
Mongolia is an electoral democracy. The most recent parliamentary elections in 2008 were generally considered free and fair by international election observers, although election rules are not firmly established. While the 1992 constitution created a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system, parliamentary balloting has been conducted under different electoral arrangements, varying between multimember and single-member districts. There is concern that these frequent changes make it difficult to stabilize the expectations of political elites or enhance popular confidence in democratic government. The prime minister, who holds most executive powers, is nominated by the party or coalition with the most seats in the 76-member parliament (the State Great Hural) and approved by the parliament with the agreement of the president. There is no requirement that the prime minister be an elected member of parliament. The president can veto legislation, subject to a two-thirds parliamentary override. Both the president and the parliament are directly elected for four-year terms. The MPRP continues to be the most powerful party, but a number of smaller opposition groups, including the DP, are competitive.
Corruption is a problem in Mongolia. The U.S. State and Commerce departments both have identified “corruption in the bureaucracy” as one of the obstacles affecting economic and political development. Transparency International ranked Mongolia 102 out of 180 countries surveyed in its 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.
While the government generally respects freedom of speech and of the press, it monitors all media for compliance with content restrictions on violence, pornography, and alcohol, as well as with tax laws. Many journalists and independent publications practice a degree of self-censorship to avoid legal action for violations of the State Secrets Law or libel laws that place the burden of proof on the defendant. The government has at times filed libel suits or launched tax audits against publications or journalists in the wake of critical articles. Mongolia’s press freedom suffered a setback following the riots in the wake of the June 2008 parliamentary election; several journalists were injured, and all television stations except state television were forced to stop broadcasting.
Mongolia has been slow to implement a 1999 law requiring the transformation of state broadcasters into public corporations. Independent print outlets are common and popular in cities, but the main source of news in the vast countryside is the state-owned Radio Mongolia. Currently, there are more than 30 newspapers, over 120 radio stations, and 68 television stations. Content from foreign sources such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Voice of America are available. In the capital, foreign television programming via cable and commercial satellite systems are also accessible. The government does not interfere with internet access.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution. The fall of communism led to 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 some 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. 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 in 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. Although the constitution prohibits unlawful arrest and detention, the police force has been known to make arbitrary arrests, hold detainees for long periods of time, and beat prisoners. According to the U.S. State Department, P. Ganbayar, a famous wrestler, died in March 2008 while in police custody. Ten police officers were arrested and charged with premeditated murder for the deaths of five people during riots following the June 2008 parliamentary elections. In recent years, prisons have been outfitted with video-monitoring systems, decreasing the incidence of beatings by guards. Nevertheless, deaths in prisons continue to be reported, due largely to disease—often tuberculosis—exacerbated by poor conditions like insufficient food, heat, and medical care.
The country’s National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) consists of three senior civil servants nominated by the president, the Supreme Court, and the parliament for terms of six years. 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.
Mongolia has what the United Nations terms a “reverse gender gap,” as women now make up 60 percent of all students at Mongolian universities. However, the phenomenon has not carried over into politics—only five parliamentary seats are occupied by women. Domestic violence has been a serious concern in Mongolia. A 2005 law prohibited spousal abuse, which was broadly defined, and there have been dozens of convictions in recent years. However, social and cultural norms continue to discourage victims from reporting such crimes.