Three Mongolian political parties with seats in the current parliament have nominated their candidates for the country’s sixth presidential election, which is scheduled for June 26, 2013, under the 1992 constitution. After the completion of administrative and legal background checks, the General Election Commission formally recognized the candidates on May 22 (Press Release of the General Election Commission of Mongolia, May 22).
The ruling coalition, led by the Democratic Party (MDP), has rallied behind the incumbent President Tsakhiagyn Elbegdorj, who is vying for his second term, whereas the opposition Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) nominated a well-known national wrestling champion, Badnaanyambuugyn Bat-Erdene. The third candidate, Natsagyn Udval, was nominated by the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP)—a political grouping tied to the currently jailed former President Nambaryn Enkhbayar. The position of Mongolian president has both a symbolic (ceremonial) role and also holds “checks and balances” responsibilities in legislative, executive, and judicial affairs of the state.
In addition to ceremonial roles such as summoning the first opening session of the Mongolian parliament—the State Ikh Khural—the president has the right to initiate, veto and to endorse legislative bills, to bring any policy issues to the attention of the parliament, and to dismiss the parliament if it fails to establish a government. The president is also entitled to endorse nominations of the prime minister and cabinet members, to give directives to the head of government in areas of national security, foreign policy, national unity and other related areas, and to introduce a motion of no confidence against the parliament. Presidential power is the most significant with regard to the judiciary. The president is allowed to nominate three out of the nine members of the Constitutional Court, the prosecutor general, as well as the deputy prosecutor to the parliament. The presidency is also constitutionally empowered to appoint or relieve members of the General Council of the Courts, along with judges at all levels (The Constitution of Mongolia, 1992).
Three other domains further increase the president’s responsibility. The first is the president’s simultaneous position as the head of the National Security Council—the highest consultative body of the government, which discusses issues pertaining to national security matters and includes the speaker of the parliament and prime minister. The President, as the head of this consultative body, can call for its meetings and issues directives to any related government entities. The Office of the National Security Council adds an institutional capacity for the president, as does the requirement that key government officials report to the Council. For example, using this power, the president issued a decree to suspend the issuance and processing of both mining and exploration licenses in 2010, and established a working group to improve the country’s mining-related legislation (2013 Mongolia Investment Climate Statement, US Embassy, p. 25).
Second, the president is commander-in-chief of the Mongolian Armed Forces. This includes the right to appoint the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces (in consultation with the parliament), to maintain control of the Armed Forces during war time and national emergencies, to declare national emergencies and mobilization, and to approve key documents concerning the structure and use of the military forces. The final area of presidential power is foreign policy. As head of state, the president represents Mongolia in the international arena, appoints ambassadors, and recognizes foreign heads of diplomatic missions.
All the major Mongolian parties are in clear competition for this powerful position. The incumbent Elbegdorj’s victory would certainly strengthen the MDP’s dominance in the national and local governments and would likely result in further collaboration with the presidential office to implement the MDP-led coalition government’s political program without considerable resistance. The likelihood of the re-election of the President Elbegdorj is quite high according to his opinion poll ratings as compared to the other two candidates. According to the Sant Maral Foundation’s April 2013 political barometer, Elbegdorj was named as “Best president for Mongolia” by 19.2 percent of all respondents, while 79 percent of MDP backers supported him from a list of possible contenders. Elbegdorj’s runner-up opponent, Bat-Erdene, received just 2.1 percent support in a general ranking and 14 percent from among the backers of his political party, the MPP (http://www.santmaral.mn/sites/default/files/SMPBE13%20Apr.pdf).
The opposition candidate Bat-Erdene has been a member of parliament since 2004, following his successful national wrestling career as 11-time champion of the Naadam wrestling tournament. He has been a leading voice calling for the protection of the environment and in promoting Mongolian traditional values. A lawyer by profession following his wrestling career, he played a crucial role in passing the Law on Prohibition of Minerals Exploration in Water Basins and Forested Areas (known as The Law with the Long Name) and has strongly advocated its implementation, as well as a re-negotiation of the Oyu Tolgoi copper mining deals with foreign companies (with specific emphasis on environmental protection) (business-mongolia.com, September 18, 2012). Bat-Erdene’s victory would change the dynamics of Mongolian politics by reasserting the MPP’s influence on the judiciary and providing institutional power to pressure the MDP-dominated parliament and its government.
The third candidate, Udval, is the health minister within the MDP-led coalition government and became quite popular for joining former President Enkhbayar in establishing the MPRP and later for protecting Enkhbayar from corruption-related prosecutions. Enkhbayar was the second-most frequently named option for “Best president for Mongolia” (6.2 percent) after incumbent President Elbegdorj. Udval is the first-ever female candidate for president in Mongolia (http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=4332). Udval will potentially gain some votes mostly from MPP supporters, female voters, and supporters of Enkhbayar, but not enough to threaten the other two candidates.
Mongolian voters will likely not perceive much difference in the stated platforms of the candidates for president. All three have been rallying for justice, government accountability, the preservation of national identity and, most importantly, responsible mining. Nevertheless, the June 26 election will serve as an important exercise in institutional consolidation for this young Asian democracy. And the next president will dictate how stormy or cordial Mongolian politics and the legislative process—and, by extension, Mongolia’s business climate—will be over the next several years.