Mongolia votes for new president amid COVID-19 campaign restrictions
Mongolia heads to the polls on Wednesday to choose its sixth democratically elected president, with the ruling Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) poised to consolidate its power following a low-key campaign hampered by the brakes of COVID-19.
The vote is the first after constitutional amendments stripped the post of some of its powers and limited its incumbents to a single six-year term, preventing incumbent Khaltmaa Battulga of the opposition Democratic Party from standing for re-election.
Ukhnaa Khurelsukh, forced to step down as prime minister after this year’s protests, is the favorite to take over the chairmanship of the MPP, which already controls parliament and government.
The Democratic Party sends Sodnomzundui Erdene to replace Battulga.
Campaign events in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, have been kept to a minimum in the fight against COVID-19. Daily infections hit a record high over the past week and the death toll in Mongolia stands at 325.
“Due to the coronavirus, there is very little information on the election campaign, and I will probably decide at the time,” said 22-year-old voter Ganbayar Gantulga.
Around 1,000 Khurelsukh supporters staged a rally outside a concert hall on Saturday, but he put his campaign online hours later after his Labor rival Dangaasuren Enkhbat, the third candidate in the election, tested positive in coronavirus.
Mongolia’s hybrid political system gives parliament the power to make laws and appoint governments, but it also gives the president veto power over legislation.
Voters generally chose candidates from opposition parties as president. Although the winners must renounce party allegiance, they have tended to block party line legislation, creating a political stalemate that some say has held the country back.
Although businessman and former wrestler Battulgahe has not overturned the decision to exclude him from this year’s election, he remains popular with some voters.
“Battulga has done a lot for the people,” said Tsetsegmaa Khasbat, a 67-year-old retiree. “He’s a person who can get things done.”
However, others were disappointed with his inability to confront the ruling elite, said Enkhtsetseg Dagva, program manager at the Open Society Forum, a non-governmental group.
“Battulga has made deals with the current MPP which have been detrimental to Mongolian democracy,” she said.
The MPP-controlled parliament agreed to give Battulga the power to sack and replace judges and anti-corruption officials, which critics saw as part of a wider takeover.
Neither the party nor Khurelsukh responded to Reuters requests for comment.
“MONGOLIA WITHOUT DICTATURE”
The Democratic Party’s campaign slogan this year is “Mongolia without a dictatorship,” and candidate Erdene told Reuters that an MPP victory would see the country evolve further into a one-party state.
“Today, if you are not a member (of the MPP), if you are not affiliated with the ruling party, it is no longer possible to do business the way you want, to study what you choose and live as you wish. “
The two major parties have accused each other of undermining Mongolian 30-year-old democracy.
“Both parties are right,” said Sumati Luvsandendev, political analyst and pollster at the Sant Maral Foundation, a Mongolian consultancy firm.
“Both sides ‘are undermining democracy’ and it is not easy to say which side is doing better.”
Sumati said he expected the MPP to come out victorious.
“The campaign (of the Democratic Party) does not exist, while foreigner Enkhbat is quite successful in consolidating protest votes in urban areas … (but) his chances against the powerful MPP system are very low,” did he declare.
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.