Freedom in the World
In January 2010, Mongolia held the inaugural hearing of Citizens’ Hall, an institutional mechanism established in 2009 to increase civic participation in the legislative process. In March, the government finalized a contract with two international mining firms to develop the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine. Concerns over the details of the deal and the allocation of royalties dominated the domestic agenda throughout the year, leading to a series of large protests in April.
Once the center of Genghis Khan’s sprawling empire, Mongolia was ruled by China for two centuries until Soviet-backed forces took control in the early 1920s. A people’s republic was proclaimed in 1924, and the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party(MPRP) established a one-party communist state. In response to persistent antigovernment protests, the MPRP legalized opposition parties in 1990. However, facing a poorly prepared and underfunded opposition, the MPRP easily won the first multiparty parliamentary elections that year and won again in 1992.
The MPRP lost the 1996 parliamentary elections after 72 years in office, and power was transferred peacefully to the opposition Democratic Union Coalition. The new government sought to implement political and economic reforms, but after an economic downturn the following year, the MPRP regained power, winning both the 1997 presidential election and the 2000 parliamentary vote.
The 2004 parliamentary elections were marred by irregularities and gave neither side a majority. The MPRP consequently agreed to a power-sharing government with the opposition Motherland Democracy Coalition (MDC).
The MPRP’s Nambaryn Enkhbayar, the parliament speaker and a former prime minister, won the 2005 presidential election, despite street demonstrations by protesters who accused him of corruption. In January 2006, the MDC-MPRP coalition government broke down, and the MPRP formed a new government with several small parties and MDC defectors. Miyeegombo Enkhbold of the MPRP became prime minister, but he was replaced in November 2007 by Sanjaa Bayar after being accused of excessive political favoritism and corruption.
The initial results of the June 2008 parliamentary elections handed the MPRP a solid majority, but the opposition Democratic Party (DP) and others challenged the outcome. Small-scale protests escalated into large, violent demonstrations in the capital. Five people were killed, scores were injured, and over 700 others were arrested. The government declared a four-day state of emergency on July 2. The final vote tally released in August gave the MPRP 46 seats and the DP 27, and Bayar remained prime minister.
Former prime minister Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj of the opposition DP took 51.2 percent of the vote in the May 2009 presidential election, becoming the first DP president. Enkhbayar, the incumbent, quickly admitted defeat, averting a repeat of the previous year’s unrest. International observers deemed the election generally free and fair. In October, Bayar resigned as prime minister for health reasons and was replaced by Foreign Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold.
The global economic downturn, combined with an extremely harsh winter, exacerbated Mongolia’s high poverty and unemployment rates in 2009. In October, a $5 billion contract was signed with the international mining companies Ivanhoe Mines and Rio Tinto to develop a copper and gold mine in Oyu Tolgoi. While the deal was positively received, some expressed concerns over ongoing corruption and a lack of transparency surrounding the contract’s negotiations. The government set up a Human Development Fund in 2009 to distribute mining royalties to citizens.
In March 2010, the government approved the feasibility study proposed by Ivanhoe and Rio Tinto and finalized the deal. A series of large-scale protests followed in April over the government’s failure to distribute aid from mining royalties, a campaign promise made by both the DP and the MPRP during the 2008 parliamentary elections. In the largest demonstration, approximately 10,000 people convened in Ulaanbaatar, calling for the dissolution of the parliament. The government responded by offering social services rather than cash handouts, but no compromise could be reached and the protesters initiated a hunger strike on April 9. On April 16, police dispersed the remaining 34 protesters, leading to minor injuries; the hunger strikers were hospitalized to treat symptoms of starvation.An agreement to officially end the protests was concluded on April 22, outlining constitutional modifications, financial commitments, and government reporting requirements.
The Oyu Tolgoi mine is expected to provide double-digit annual growth for several years and quadruple per capita gross domestic product (GDP) by 2018. However, observers have questioned Mongolia’s capacity to handle the economic boom, predicting an increase in corruption and political instability. Disputes over the mine dominated public debate throughout 2010, including concerns over water resources, labor rights, and how to utilize the Human Development Fund.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Mongolia is an electoral democracy. The 2009 presidential election was generally considered free and fair by international observers. Parliamentary balloting has varied over the years between multimember and single-member districts, and thereis concern that these frequent changes make it difficult to stabilize the expectations of political elites and enhance popular confidence in democratic government. The prime minister, who holds most executive power, is nominated by the party or coalition with the most seats in the 76-member parliament (the State Great Hural) and approved by the parliament with the agreement of the president. There is no requirement that the prime minister be an elected member of parliament. The president is head of state and of the armed forces, andcan veto legislation, subject to a two-thirds parliamentary override. Both the president and the parliament are directly elected for four-year terms. The MPRP continues to be the most powerful party, but a number of smaller opposition groups are competitive.
Corruption remainsa serious problem in Mongolia. The Independent Authority Against Corruption (IAAC) has been actively investigating corruption allegations since 2007. By February 2010, all civil servants were required to have submitted asset and income disclosure statements to the IAAC; 297 were found to have misreported or submitted their statements late. As of the end of 2010, the IAAC had investigated hundreds of corruption cases; of the roughly one-fifth referred for prosecution, about one in three resulted in convictions. Transparency International ranked Mongolia 116 out of 178 countries surveyed in its 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The government operates with limited transparency. However, the Citizens’ Hall—established in 2009 to encourage civic participation in the legislative processes—held its first open discussion on a proposed press law in January 2010. The measure had not passed by year’s end. Citizens have the opportunity to provide feedback on draft laws and government services by attending such hearings or submitting their views via letter, fax, e-mail, or telephone. Meetings continued to be held on a regular basis throughout 2010.
While the government generally respects press freedom, many journalists and independent publications practice a degree of self-censorship to avoid legal action under the State Secrets Law or libel laws that place the burden of proof on the defendant. A 2010 report by the nongovernmental organization Globe International voiced concern over the growing number of criminal cases against journalists, as well as an increase in the financial compensation demanded of them. The report noted that the majority of press freedom violations in Mongolia are committed by government officials or politicians.
There are hundreds of privately owned print and broadcast outlets, but the main source of news in the vast countryside is the state-owned Mongolian National Broadcasting. Foreign content from satellite television and radio services like the British Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America is also increasingly available. The government does not interfere with internet access.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution. The fall of communism led to a growth in various Christian sects, as well as a revival of Mongolia’s traditional Buddhism and shamanism. Religious groups are required to register with the government and renew their status annually. While most registration requests are approved, authorities in Tuv province have routinely denied registration to Christian churches. The Kazakh Muslim minority generally enjoys freedom of religion.Academic freedom is respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are observed in law and in practice. A number of environmental, human rights, and social welfare groups—while largely reliant on foreign donors—operate without government restriction. Trade unions are independent and active, and the government has generally protected their rights in recent years, though the downsizing or sale of many state factories has contributed to a sharp drop in union membership. Collective bargaining is legal, but in Mongolia’s poor economy, employers are often able to set wages unilaterally.
The judiciary is independent, but corruption among judges persists. The police force has been known to make arbitrary arrests, hold detainees for long periods, and beat prisoners. Deaths in prisons—due largely to disease—continue to be reported, as insufficient nutrition, heat, and medical care remain problems. In a National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) survey following the 2008 postelection riots, nearly 90 percent of prisoners reported being abused in detention. Police also reportedly used live ammunition during the riots, killing at least five people. Ten police officers and four senior police officials were referred to prosecutors for investigation in January 2010. By February, all charges had been dropped; the senior officials were pardoned under a 2009 amnesty law, and the others were found to have not intended to kill anyone. Widespread criticism of the pardons led to debate—ongoing at year’s end—over whether the cases should be reopened.
The NCHR consists of three senior civil servants nominated by the president, the Supreme Court, and the parliament for six-year terms; appointees are not required to have human rights experience or expertise. In 2010, the NCHR was criticized by NGOs for not establishing an effective mechanism for ensuring human rights or compensating victims.
While Mongolia is not a party to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and lacks legislation enabling the granting of asylum, the government frequently provides protection to refugees, including those fleeing persecution in China.
While women make up 60 percent of all university students as well as 60 percent of all judges, women hold only five parliamentary seats. Spousal abuse is prohibited by law, but social and cultural norms continue to discourage victims from reporting such crimes.