Freedom in the World
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Freedom in the World Scores
Following a peaceful revolution in 1990, Mongolia began holding multiparty elections and has since established itself as an electoral democracy. While the two dominant parties remain rooted in patronage relations, and widespread corruption hinders development, political freedoms and civil liberties are firmly institutionalized.
Key Developments in 2017:
- Khaltmaa Battulga of the Democratic Party (DP) was elected president in July 2017, following a campaign that was characterized in large part by allegations of corruption levied by the candidates against one another. Many frustrated voters submitted blank ballots.
- A new government under Prime Minister Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh of the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) was formed in the fall, in the wake of factional infighting that followed the narrow defeat of the MPP candidate in the presidential election.
- Many news outlets participated in a media blackout took place in April to protest changes to libel laws that would have increased fines for offenses.
- A number of peaceful protests took place, including events demanding government action to reduce pollution, and for reforms to the mining industry, which is widely viewed as benefiting elites.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 36 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 11 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
Under the 1992 constitution, the president is directly elected for up to two four-year terms. Khaltmaa Battulga of the Democratic Party (DP) was elected in July 2017 to succeed Tsakhia Elbegdorj, following a campaign that offered little discussion of policy and was instead characterized by allegations of corruption levied by the candidates against one another. No candidate took a majority in the first round, and a run-off was necessary for the first time in Mongolian democratic history.
Many voters had voiced their frustration with the three candidates participating in the first round, and 1.5 percent of the electorate chose this none-of-the-above option to register their discontent. The number of blank ballots jumped to 8.2 percent in the second round of voting, in which Battulga defeated ruling Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) candidate Miyeegombo Enkhbold with 50.6 percent. An Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) election monitoring mission assessed the polls as well run and credible, but noted a lack of analytical media coverage of a “short but fierce” campaign.
The prime minister, who holds most executive power, is nominated by the party or coalition with the most seats in the parliament and is approved by parliament with the agreement of the president. The MPP formed a government under Prime Minister Jargaltulga Erdenebat after the 2016 election. However, amid factional infighting that followed the loss of Enkhbold, the MPP candidate, in the presidential election, the MPP-dominated parliament voted to remove Erdenebat in September 2017. The MPP’s Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh became prime minister in October.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
Under the 1992 constitution, members of the 76-seat parliament (the State Great Khural) are directly elected for four-year terms. In 2016 elections, which were held under a new majoritarian, or first-past-the-post, system, the MPP won 85 percent of seats. The formerly governing DP was reduced to nine seats with an independent popular singer and a lone representative of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party claiming the remaining seats. The OSCE mission said polling took place in an orderly manner.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3 / 4
While the electoral laws are often changed at the last moment, and favor the two large parties, they are generally fair. While the General Election Commission is often regarded with some suspicion, it conducted the 2017 presidential election in an impartial manner.
In 2016, the OSCE criticized electoral reform processes that brought about the majoritarian system as rushed and opaque, and noted that new districts were drawn inequitably.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 16 / 16
B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4
Mongolia features a multiparty system, though the 2016 electoral reforms brought about a shift to two-party dominance. Political parties are largely built around patronage networks rather than political ideologies. Representatives of large business groups play an important role in funding and directing the larger parties.
New political movements may form and operate freely, and smaller political parties have held legislative seats and remain viable. However, a perceived need for significant funding may dissuade some potential organizers of new political movements.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4
There are no undue barriers preventing opposition parties from gaining power through elections. The MPP and DP have remained the dominant political forces in the country, taking turns controlling the parliament, and Mongolia has a history of peaceful rotations of power.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 4 / 4
Powerful business interests have some influence over candidates, whom they are able to support through a nontransparent party financing system. However, candidates and voters are generally able to express their political choices without encountering undue influence.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4 / 4
All adult citizens may vote, other than incarcerated Mongolians. Women are underrepresented in politics, holding just under 20 percent of legislative seats, and few senior posts. Societal norms discourage women from running for office. LGBT people face societal discrimination that hampers their ability to advocate for their rights in the political sphere.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 9 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4
Elected representatives are duly seated and able to craft policy freely. However, corporations, aided by opaque party finance procedures, can influence policymaking.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4
Corruption is endemic in Mongolia and is widely perceived as becoming worse in recent years, notably regarding state involvement in the mining sector. Anticorruption laws are both vaguely written and infrequently enforced. Government officials in a range of departments require bribes in exchange for granting various kinds of licenses or other documentation. Public contracts are frequently secured through bribery.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3 / 4
There are many laws and regulations that bind the government to transparency and accountability. However, implementation and enforcement of these laws is inconsistent. The 2011 Law on Information Transparency and Right to Information contains restrictions on what information is considered public. Authorities often invoke these exceptions, as well as the State Secrets Law, in order to limit disclosures.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 49 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 14 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 3 / 4
Press freedom is generally respected, and a variety of media outlets espouse pluralistic views. However, coverage can be partisan, and the OSCE noted xenophobic rhetoric and unsupported allegations of corruption in the media during the 2017 election campaign. Ownership of media companies remains opaque and subject to much speculation. Many journalists practice self-censorship in order not to offend political or business interests.
Journalists in recent years have visibly mobilized against laws and proposals considered repressive. Many outlets participated in a media blackout took place in April to protest changes to libel laws that would have increased fines for offenses.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4
While legally individuals are free to practice their religion, all religious groups are required to register with the government, and the process for doing so can last years due to shifting policies and bureaucratic delays. Additionally, some minority religious groups, including adherents of the Unification Church, have reported harassment from government officials.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4
Academic freedom is generally respected.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4
There are few significant impediments to free and open private discussion. There were some reports of a tense environment in which voters felt discouraged from criticizing political parties during the 2016 parliamentary election campaign.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 11 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4
Freedoms of assembly is upheld in practice. A number of protests took place in 2017, including events demanding government action to reduce pollution, and for reforms to the mining industry, which is widely viewed as benefiting elites.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4
Numerous environmental, human rights, and social welfare groups operate without restrictions, though most are very small.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3 / 4
Trade unions are independent and active, and the government generally respects their rights. Collective bargaining is legal. However, labor rights are restricted for certain groups, such as foreign and temporary workers, and some employers unlawfully disrupt union activity.
F. RULE OF LAW: 12 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 3 / 4
Judiciary appointments are a right of the president under Mongolia’s constitution. Once appointed, judges are fairly independent, though judicial weakness contributes to Mongolia’s failure to address petty corruption including rampant bribery involving government officials. The new Khurelsukh government has made ensuring an independent judiciary a prominent part of its agenda.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3 / 4
Due process rights are generally respected, there are some sporadic accounts of abuse of power in civil and criminal matters. The police force has been accused of making arbitrary arrests and traffic stops, holding detainees for long periods, and beating prisoners. Recently, Mongolia has focused on holding police more responsible for stopping crimes such as domestic violence.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3 / 4
Mongolia has not been involved in any armed conflict since 1939. However, there are sporadic accounts of violence in the criminal justice system. While torture and other cruel punishments are forbidden by law, there have been reports of such techniques being employed by police to obtain confessions. Prison deaths continue to be reported, and insufficient nutrition, heat, and medical care remain problems in detention facilities.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4
There are no formal barriers to equal treatment. However, segments of the general population, especially in rural areas, hold on to discriminatory beliefs about Kazaks and other ethnic minorities. LGBT people face societal discrimination—notably employment discrimination—and harassment.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 12 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4
The government respects the rights of Mongolians to free internal and external travel. However, exit bans can be imposed as part of legal procedures with the permission of the prosecutor general, and several hundred people including some foreign citizens are barred from leaving the country under such orders. Under a new law, the process of issuing an exit ban is now overseen by a judge, providing more legitimacy to the process.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3 / 4
People are generally free to own property and establish private businesses, though some sectors have a notable presence of state-owned enterprises. Corruption can hamper normal business activities. Officials have withheld operating licenses and other documentation from businesses until bribes are paid. There is a history of corruption and government interference in the mining industry.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3 / 4
Legally, Mongolia ensures the rights of individuals to have personal social freedoms. However, domestic violence remains a problem. Recently, the government has initiated programs to encourage a better police response to domestic violence complaints.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4
Inequality is rising in Mongolia. The appearance and growth of herders who are employed by herd owners is one notable indicator of this shift. The gated communities that are beginning to dominate the capital, Ulaanbaatar, also suggest rising inequality in the country.
Women, children, people living in poverty, and other vulnerable populations are at risk of becoming victims of traffickers and forced to engage in sex work or forced labor or begging. Workers in the mining industry are subject to exploitation. The government has taken efforts to better prosecute trafficking cases, but corruption and a lack of will to address the issue impedes the fight against human trafficking.