In the midst of frenzied allegations, black PR and yellow journalism, the public is too caught up on candidates’ personal character, much distracted from the fact that all candidates lack distinct platforms. An associate professor from University of British Columbia focused on Mongolian politics, Julian Dierkes, tweeted that in this election, “platforms said very little” – meaning the candidates lack concrete policies and proposals. Elections have been reduced to a matter of voting for a candidate least tainted by black PR, and running for office has been reduced to fighting for power.
The leading parties have philosophically become homogenous and are dominated by cadre policies, meaning institutions are under the control of parties, as opposed to the state, creating a parallel power structure to the constitution. It is not a secret that top government positions are filled depending on economic patronage and affiliation to the governing party rather than merit. Additionally, it is commonly known that MPs push forth vested interests through their position. Needless to mention that majority of legislators are affiliated with, or own private large businesses, corporations and holdings.
The differences between the political parties must be reminded as a progressive step towards a more definitive model of democracy. Historically, the leading parties, the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP), which holds 65 seats in Parliament, and the Democratic Party (DP), with nine seats, have had distinct ideologies.
MPP, the ex-communist party, historically had Marxist-Leninist ideologies. Evinced by their allegiance to the Socialist International Organization, now they identify themselves as democratic socialist, or center-left. Whereas DP, according to their official website, situate themselves as center-right on the political spectrum, and their ideology is identified as liberal conservatism.
Social democracy endorses political intervention in economic and social sectors to promote social justice, within a capitalist framework. It emphasizes egalitarian notions, such as promotion of social welfare, curbing inequality, and representation of minority groups (MPP reserves at least 25 percent of their party for female delegates). In policy, their mission is to obtain equalitarian, democratic outcomes- thus they associate with labor movements and trade unions to effectively circulate national wealth. As mentioned above, MPP is currently a member of the Socialist International Organization, an alliance that seeks to strengthen social democracy worldwide and promote labor parties. However, whether MPP effectively actualizes its philosophy in reality is up for debate.
DP’s center-right ideologies rooted in liberal conservatism, theoretically pushes for economic development based on rule by law. That is, new insertions are to comply to preexisting laws – hence, their conservative tone. Conservative ideologies advocate equality of opportunity, rather than equality in distribution. Thus, rightists aim to formulate policies that allow for all individuals to have equal play in the economic game. On the other hand, the leftist stance holds that distribution of wealth must be balanced through taxation and equity. DP is a member of the International Democratic Union, an alliance of center-right political parties. Whether DP legitimately represents its philosophy is also a subject of debate.
Although theoretically the two parties have distinct ideologies, it is less visible in practice. Comparatively, the US’s Republican Party and Democratic Party are highly distinctive in their standpoints and in their approach to forming policies. When the parties do not push forth their own distinctive proposals and policies, the multi-party system becomes solely symbolic and not purposive.
As a premature democratic nation, with a history of merely four presidents over a span of 27 years, it seems the political parties have not fully developed their distinct identities. As a result, there is a lack of demand for ideological justifications for candidates’ platform on the public’s part, and respectively, there is a lack of concrete proposals and policies posited by the candidates. In this election particularly, campaigns focused on the candidates’ “manliness”, “Mongolness” or their family lineage. “I do believe that Mongolia would benefit from more substantive political debates and from the introduction of more evidence-based policy proposals. But that holds for the entire spectrum of political views and is really more of a perspective on the political process, rather than a perspective on any particular political party,” Julian writes in his blog.
Instead of introducing evidence-based policy proposals, the candidates have used trivial propaganda techniques in their campaign such as broad generalizations, celebrity testimonial support, and “catchy” slogans. They attempted to and succeeded in appealing to the public’s nationalism and their strongly imbedded fear of the powerhouse neighbors.
In opposition to what voters see as lack of candidates with a clear and effective platform, nearly 18,000 empty ballots were submitted on the first round of elections, and 99,000 on the second round run-off. “I submitted a blank ballot because none of the candidates seemed fitting for the position. I wanted to demonstrate my dissatisfaction as higher voter turn up amounts to better representation,” said Maral, a 22 year-old student who strongly urges people to resist what she sees as the “illusion of choice” at this year’s election.
As cadre parties threaten Mongolian democracy, it is crucial to remind the public to demand politicians to provide definitive platforms, with concrete proposals and plans. It is even more crucial to require political parties to uphold their distinctive ideologies in order for the multi-party system to be effective in governing the nation.