Report of the International Delegaton Studying the Development of the Mongolian Electoral System, 3-10 December 1991

Publication Date: 
29 Feb 1992

Publication Type:



Mongolia comprises 604,103 square miles of magnificent and largely unspoiled land situated between Russia to the north and the People's Republic of China to the south. Over one third of its 2,000,000 or so inhabitants reside in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar (600,000 pop.), in the second city of Darhan (65,000 pop.), or in Erdenet (50,000 pop.). The remainder, some of them nomadic, are distributed throughout the eighteen (18) aimaks (political subdivisions roughly akin to large counties in the United States). The vast majority of the people are of Mongolian descent, and about 75% of them are 35 years of age or younger with 40% being below the age of 16.

Mongolia's history has been shaped primarily by its landlocked isolation between two giant neighbors. Its dominant historical figure is Ghengis Khan whose military conquests from the Pacific to the Mediterranean contributed to a rich and unique culture. Since those imperial days, China and Russia have competed for political and economic dominance over Mongolia. Indeed, the land called Inner Mongolia remains a province of northern China. But since 1924, the current nation of Mongolia (once referred to as Outer Mongolia) has come under the influence of the Soviet Union and has modeled itself on the Soviet political and economic systems.

It is not surprising, then, that Mongolia is today undergoing the same sort of political and economic reforms and upheavals that currently beset the countries of Eastern Europe and the republics of the former Soviet Union. Yet despite some measure of political confusion and despite the temporary economic dislocations that such fundamental reforms inevitably entail, there are reasons to expect that Mongolia will recover more rapidly than most of its sister soviet socialist states.

First, it seems unlikely that Soviet ideology permeated all stratas of Mongolian society quite as thoroughly as it did in the Soviet republics or Eastern Europe. Soviet communism was, after all, primarily an urban industrialized notion rather than a rural agrarian one. And although we did not have an opportunity to explore this hypothesis first hand in the small towns or countryside, it is a fair bet that the daily lives of many of the rural and nomadic populations were largely unaffected by the prevailing ideology. Moreover, the majority of the population, as noted earlier, are relatively young and thus more amenable to radical changes - especially those that give vent to their energies and ambitions. Already there are signs of adjustment. There is, for example, a robust free-trade market based, it seems, on the U.S. dollar. Privately run "dollar shops" abound while a shopping center composed entirely of privately owned and operated stalls seems to do a lively business. And steps are underway toward even further privitization.

A second reason for optimism is that despite fearful rumors of conservative or reactionary Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) elements, there seemed to us a genuine and determined spirit of reform at all official levels and in all political parties. There are, to be sure, differences over the speed and extent of proposed reforms; but if there really are elements that seek to restore the old order, we did not meet them.

Finally, it should be said that it is probably easier to reform a semi-industrialized nation of two million people than it is a fully industrialized, complex nation of (say) twenty five or fifty million people. The more so in the absence of complicating internal ethnic or national rivalries. From the point of view of those who would provide assistance, then, each dollar of it would undoubtedly go further in Mongolia than in any other reforming soviet socialist republic.

The picture, however, is not entirely rosy and bright. The recent cessation of substantial aid from the former USSR is sure to have profound and terrible consequences on an economy that has been virtually dependent on the USSR for everything from paper to nails. Upon the withdrawl of USSR technicians, construction projects have come to a standstill; and in the absence of USSR replacement parts, vital services such as electricity, heat, and public transportation are in jeopardy. Moreover, the transition from a command to a free market economy is certain to result in temporary shortages and inflation. Already, butter and other foodstuffs are being rationed when they are available at all. Meanwhile, exports of valuable Mongolian products such as cashmere, leather, furs, suede, wool, carpets, raw materials, and even tourism are hampered by inadequate transport facilities. For at present, the only routes in or out of this landlocked nation are either through Russia or through China. And they lack cargo aircraft as well as primary aviation support services.

From a political, sociological, and technical perspective, Mongolia is similarly isolated. Most foreign degrees in higher education have, understandably, been obtained in Moscow. Most books are in Russian or at least in Cyrillic script. And direct contacts with the West have been few. Faced with the collapse of the system of which they were an integral part, the Mongolians are, by their own admission, "hungry for Western concepts, ideas, and practices." This appetite has, however, led to two hazardous tendencies.

The first is that in their enthusiasm for examining Western concepts and practices (and they have conducted a very creditable review of Western constitutions), they are sometimes inclined to borrow what seems like a good idea from here and what seems like a good idea from there without apparent regard to the overall consistency or compatibility of the resulting amalgam. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their new Constitution which contains seemingly incompatible or at least complicating elements of both the parliamentary/prime ministerial form of government and the congressional/presidential form of government. (For a further discussion of this matter, see the section below on The Constitutional System). The same problem carries over into selecting a system of representation (majoritarian versus proportional), into several aspects of the election process, and even into other areas of law (such as mineral and oil rights) that are outside the focus of this report.

The second hazardous tendency is their inclination to draft laws that are overly detailed, overly comprehensive, and inflexible. It is as though they are trying to substitute one complete and absolute body of dogma with another. In so doing, they sometimes find themselves prematurely caught up in complexities and nuances that are probably better left to another day or even to another decade (such as absentee voting for military and overseas citizens as well as for those jailed awaiting trial or hospitalized outside their voting district; campaign financing; and the like). By the same token, the law often addresses details (such as the number of voters per polling place, step-by-step voting procedures, etc.) that are better left to administrative rules and procedures that can be altered over time in light of experience and circumstances. (For a fuller discussion of these matters, see the section below on The Election System).

It is within this economic and political context that our delegation was privileged to witness what, despite Mongolia's problems, can only be described as their impressive and substantial strides toward a free and democratic political process. Their continued progress, however, may depend in large measure on continued technical advice and assistance from the industrial democracies. Our observations below address The Political Environment, the Constitutional System, the Political Party System, and the Election System as we found them. The summary provides our specific recommendations for further assistance in Mongolia's electoral development.

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