Mongolia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Mongolia

Mongolia

Free
85/100
Overview: 

Following a peaceful revolution in 1990, Mongolia began holding multiparty elections and established itself as an electoral democracy. Political rights and civil liberties have been firmly institutionalized, though the two dominant parties continue to rely on patronage networks, and widespread corruption increasingly hampers further development.

Key Developments: 

Key Developments in 2018:

  • Prime Minister Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh, who had formed a new government in 2017, survived a parliamentary no-confidence motion in late November that was initiated by a faction of his own Mongolian People’s Party (MPP). The vote was prompted by a corruption scandal in which high-ranking officials were accused of siphoning off funds meant to support small businesses.
  • Khürelsükh accused parliament speaker Miyeegombo Enkhbold, also of the MPP, of seeking to oust his government because its reform efforts were threatening the corrupt economic interests of Enkhbold and his allies. Enkhbold was under investigation during the year over claims that he had sold government jobs to raise funds for the 2016 parliamentary election campaign.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

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 2017 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 runoff was necessary for the first time in Mongolia’s democratic history.

In the first round of voting, some voters voiced their frustration with the choices offered by the main parties by selecting a none-of-the-above option. The number of blank ballots jumped to 8.2 percent in the second round of voting, in which Battulga took 50.6 percent, defeating Enkhbold of the MPP. An Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election monitoring mission assessed the polls as well run and credible, but noted a lack of analytical media coverage during the campaign.

The prime minister, who holds most executive power in Mongolia’s semipresidential system, is nominated by the party or coalition with the most seats in the parliament and is approved by lawmakers with the agreement of the president. Amid factional infighting that followed the party’s loss in the 2017 presidential election, the MPP-dominated parliament voted to remove the incumbent government and install Khürelsükh as prime minister.

A2.      Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

Members of the 76-seat parliament, the State Great Hural, are directly elected for four-year terms. In the 2016 elections, which were held under a new majoritarian, or first-past-the-post, system, the MPP won 65 seats. The formerly governing DP was reduced to just 9 seats, with an independent popular singer and a lone representative of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party claiming the remainder. The OSCE mission reported that 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

The electoral laws are generally fair, though they are often changed shortly before elections and tend to favor the two largest parties. In 2016, the OSCE criticized electoral reform processes that brought about the majoritarian parliamentary system as rushed and opaque, and noted that new districts were drawn inequitably. While the General Election Commission is often regarded with some suspicion as to possible political influence, it was found to have conducted the 2017 presidential election in an impartial manner.

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 encouraged a shift to two-party dominance. Political parties are built around patronage networks rather than political ideologies. Representatives of large business groups play an important role in funding and directing the two largest parties.

New political movements may form and operate freely, and smaller political parties have held legislative seats and remained 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 two largest political forces in the country, regularly alternating in government and establishing a record of peaceful transfers of authority.

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 free to make political choices without excessive outside influence, in part because corporate interests are balanced across various factions of the two main parties.

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 other than those who are incarcerated are entitled to full political rights, and these are generally observed in practice. However, despite quotas supporting gender diversity, women remain underrepresented in politics, holding about 17 percent of parliament seats and few senior government posts. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people also face some societal discrimination that hampers their ability to advocate for their rights in the political sphere, though such advocacy has been increasing.

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

Freely elected representatives are duly seated and generally able to craft government policy without improper interference. 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 to have grown worse in recent years, particularly with respect to state involvement in the mining sector. Anticorruption laws are vaguely written and infrequently enforced. Investigations into corruption allegations are often dropped by prosecutors before reaching definitive conclusions. The Independent Authority against Corruption has been criticized as ineffective in pursuing cases, most prominently one in which parliament speaker Enkhbold allegedly sought to sell state offices to bolster party finances in 2016.

In October 2018, evidence began to emerge in the media that leading political figures and state officials had siphoned off funds from a government program meant to support small and medium-sized enterprises. A faction of MPP lawmakers attempted to oust the government with a no-confidence vote in November in response to the scandal, but the government survived, and Prime Minister Khürelsükh denounced the vote as an attempt by Enkhbold and his allies to protect their own corrupt interests. An effort to remove Enkhbold as speaker was pending at year’s end.

C3.      Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3 / 4

There are many laws and regulations designed to maintain government transparency and accountability. However, implementation and enforcement of these laws is inconsistent. The 2011 Law on Information Transparency and Right to Information contains exemptions allowing certain types of information to be withheld from the public. Authorities often invoke these exemptions, as well as the State Secrets Law, 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 media outlets collectively present a wide range of 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 to avoid offending political or business interests and facing costly libel suits. Journalists can also be forced to pay administrative fines for publishing false and defamatory information under a broadly worded 2017 law.

D2.      Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4

Individuals are free to practice their religion under the law and in practice, though religious groups are required to register with the government, and the ease of registration procedures varies by region and locality.

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. However, there were some reports of a tense environment in which voters felt dissuaded from criticizing political parties during the 2016 parliamentary election campaign. Fear of repercussions from powerful actors may continue to deter open expression for some.

E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 11 / 12

E1.      Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4

Freedom of assembly is upheld in practice. A number of protests took place without incident in 2018, including events to demand government action to reduce pollution, call for reforms to the mining industry, and press for accountability in the wake of corruption scandals.

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. Individual activists sometimes report intimidation and harassment in the course of their work.

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 to bargain collectively and engage in legal strike actions. However, labor rights are restricted for certain groups, such as foreign and temporary workers, and there are some reports of employers unlawfully disrupting union activity. A number of public-sector unions held strikes during 2018 over salaries and other issues.

F. RULE OF LAW: 12 / 16

F1.       Is there an independent judiciary? 3 / 4

Judges are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Judicial General Council, whose five members in turn are nominated by the three tiers of courts, the bar association, and the Justice Ministry. Once appointed, judges are fairly independent, though corruption and political influence remain concerns.

F2.       Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3 / 4

Due process rights are generally respected, but some cases of arbitrary arrest and detention have been reported, and the right to a fair trial can be undermined by intimidation or bribery.

F3.       Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3 / 4

While the population faces few major threats to physical security, there have been reports of police illegally using physical abuse to obtain confessions. Some prison and detention facilities feature insufficient nutrition, heat, and medical care.

In July 2018, an apparent extralegal attempt by Turkish agents to seize and repatriate a Turkish educator living in Mongolia was thwarted after supporters, including students and alumni of Turkish schools in the country, mobilized to prevent the abduction, with prominent politicians joining their calls for the defense of the rule of law and the rejection of foreign interference. Mongolian authorities prevented a Turkish plane from leaving the airport with the educator; after he was released, he sought asylum in Mongolia.

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 under the law. Discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other categories is prohibited. However, women and LGBT people continue to face societal discrimination and harassment, including in the workplace. Public events in support of equality for LGBT people grew in attendance and visibility in 2018, with an eight-day series of gatherings in August.

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 generally respects freedom of movement, including internal and foreign travel. Exit bans imposed on individuals involved in legal cases are overseen by the courts.

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 state-owned enterprises play a prominent role in some sectors. Corruption also hampers many private business activities. Officials have reportedly 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

Individual rights on personal status issues such as marriage and divorce are protected by law. However, domestic violence remains a problem. The government has initiated programs to encourage better police responses to domestic violence complaints in recent years. A government survey conducted with the United Nations, published in June 2018, found that nearly a third of women said they had faced physical or sexual abuse from a partner, and just 10 percent of those who had suffered severe sexual violence by a nonpartner had reported the crimes to the authorities.

G4.      Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4

The government has struggled to cope with economic inequality, particularly as large numbers of rural Mongolians migrate to cities that lack sufficient housing and infrastructure. New housing continues to be constructed, but many existing residents have reportedly been left homeless by urban redevelopment projects.

Women, children, people living in poverty, and other vulnerable segments of the population are at some risk of becoming victims of traffickers and compelled to engage in sex work or forced labor or begging. Workers in the mining industry are subject to exploitative conditions, as are contract workers from China. The government has taken efforts to better prosecute trafficking cases, but corruption and a lack of will to address the issue impedes progress.