By Ananya Upadhyay
The recently concluded Mongolian presidential election gave another tenure to the Democratic Party, bringing Khaltmaa Battulga to power. This was the country’s fifth presidential election. The president is directly elected in two rounds of voting. In the first round, if no party is able to secure more than 50% of the votes, the party with the least share is eliminated and a second round of elections is conducted. This year, in the elections conducted on June 26th, Mongolia witnessed a second round for the first time. The second round was held on July 7th, with Battulga emerging victorious, carrying 55% of the votes.
The political atmosphere
As Mongolia becomes a significant player in the Far East, this presidential election comes at a fundamental time in shaping the future of modern Mongolia. A country with a vast amount of natural resources, Mongolia is an increasingly important destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) and tourism. Meanwhile, as China’s influence increases in the region, Mongolia’s foreign policy must direct outward-led growth while maintaining economic security from extractive institutions. Given these trends, the president’s ideals, ambitions, and qualifications will be crucial for determining the country’s future.
Mongolia is a semi-presidential democracy. The government is run by a prime minister, but the president has the power to veto legislation and make judicial appointments. This further increases the importance of the president’s inclinations.
Third party potential?
Though the incumbent party won, this is not a clear reflection of its popularity. Almost 100,000 blank votes were cast in protest of the choice of candidates. In addition, the regular switching back and forth between the DP (Democratic Party) and MPP (Mongolia People’s Party) has led some people to demand a stronger third party influence in Mongolia’s political sphere.
An informal online survey “Pressing Issues in Mongolia” was conducted in April 2017. It highlighted that the public is highly dissatisfied with the country’s legal system and is demanding economic stability, employment opportunities, and better environmental conditions. All the parties indulged more or less in tactics using the ideas of ‘Mongol-ness’, nationalism, and blood purity vis-a-vis the Chinese, distracting public attention from real policy issues.
Before entering politics, Battulga was a popular national-level wrestler and a martial arts star. He also served as the president of the Mongolian Judo Association. He ran several businesses including hotels, theme parks, and food companies. His company Genco Tour Bureau is one of Mongolia’s largest. Thereafter, he served as Member of the State General Khural (Legislative Assembly of Mongolia) from 2004 to 2016 and as the Minister of Roads, Transportation, Construction, and Urban Development from 2008 to 2012.
Battulga’s victory re-affirms the wave of the right-wing spreading across the world. He campaigned on a “Mongolia First” policy, borrowing the language of US President Donald Trump. Some investors have been wary of a Battulga presidency because of his calls for more state control of mines and his suspicions of China, Mongolia’s biggest trade partner. Although he promised to be “a patriotic president” seeking “equal cooperation” with neighbours like China, he himself has criticised such measures in the past.
The strategy for Mongolia’s crucial next steps
Despite protests, he is determined to build a key railway to China from the enormous Tavan Tolgoi coal mine and has praised China’s Belt and Road pan-Asian infrastructure initiative. Some fear he may push projects that are politically motivated but not economically justified.
However, Battulga’s impressive business record has attracted the faith of the youth and industrialists. He was part of the Democratic Union faction that supported a capitalistic economic approach and encouraged small and medium enterprises (SMEs). With his experience in business, Battulga has dealt with a number of trade and bilateral agreements with Russia and China. Considering Mongolia’s strategic geographical location as a buffer nation between China and Russia and its peaceful relations with both, Battulga’s future steps in trade and economy will prove to be immensely crucial.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons