By Lila Seidman
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and European Parliament (EP) announced on Thursday their joint Election Observation Mission’s (EOM) preliminary findings and conclusions concerning the June 29 parliamentary elections.
The EOM was launched on May 20 to determine whether the elections complied with the OSCE commitments, other international obligations and standards for democratic elections, as well as domestic legislation.
Laima Liucija Andrikiene (Lithuania), who led the EP delegation and Ambassador Audrey Glover, head of the OSCE/ODIHR EOM, both stressed that although election day saw orderly voting, high voter turnout and a genuinely competitive contest with a range of political choice, this “did not offset the impact of late fundamental changes to election laws on Mongolia’s democratic development,” according to the preliminary statement
“Mongolia is a functioning democracy, which is a very special [thing] in this region of the world,” Andrikiene said before highlighting last-minute changes to the electoral legislation that caused concern, including the fact that 150,000 Mongolian citizens living outside the country, including diplomats, were prevented from voting.
The observers noted that the consolidation of election legislation into a new law adopted December 25 was a positive development toward establishing a cohesive electoral framework.
They pointed out that changes in the law made in May, including converting the mixed electoral system to a majoritarian one, which established 76 single-mandate constituencies and approved their boundaries, “were introduced by Parliament in a process that lacked transparency, public consultation and adherence to established criteria. This resulted in profound population discrepancies among constituencies.”
Additionally, the participation quota for women was reduced from 30 to 20 percent, “again, without discussion,” Glover said.
Glover added that these changes are contrary to international best practice, which advocates that no fundamental amendments to election procedures should take place at least 12 months before an election. Mongolia imposed its own six-month rule before the law was dropped in May.
“This short timeframe makes it difficult for voters to understand the law and the effects that it will have, and raises doubt that the sudden, last-minute changes are free from political interest,” Glover said.
The observers also found that while the media provided candidates with a platform to present their views, there was almost a total lack of investigative journalism, as well as some self-censorship among journalists, who feared being prosecuted for libel. Paid insertion of campaign material by the parties into news programs “deprived the voters of analytical and independent reporting and raises questions about the media’s credibility,” Glover said.
There were many allegations of vote buying, and the police are currently dealing with 84 complaints. Two candidates were deregistered as a result of accusations.
In relation to the election laws, Glover said that a few of the OSCE/ODHIR recommendations included in its final report on the presidential elections of 2013 were partially implemented. However, with respect to the complaints and appeal process, making polling stations accessible for disabled people, and auditing of campaign finance after the election by the state auditing office, “most recommendations remain unaddressed, and there are still a number of shortcomings, gaps and ambiguities,” she said.
“All these worries are against the backdrop of economic stagnation and public disenchantment with politics,” Glover said. “The concern is that if the overall lack of appropriate responses by the authorities continue, it could bring a change in the perception of the democratic direction that Mongolia has up until recently been following.”
The observers lauded the activity by civil society during the electoral period. The General Election Committee accredited five organizations to be deployed as observers on election day, including the Business Incubator Center for the Disabled.
“We hope that these organizations and more will continue that effort and spread throughout Mongolia, and that their work and voices will enable this beautiful country to continue along the democratic tract,” Glover said.
In two months, the OSCE/OHDIR will release its final report on the election, which will include recommendations.
The EOM consisted of 11 international experts based in Ulaanbaatar, as well as 14 long-term observers and several short-term observers, who were briefed in the capital and deployed across the country.
The long-terms observers were deployed on May 27. The short-term observers deployed on June 26.
This is the second OSCE/ODIHR EOM conducted in Mongolia. The first mission observed the elections in 2013. Mongolia became an OSCE participating state in late 2012.