The special session of parliament started off last week with a bang–literally. The environmentalist group “Gal Undesten” (Fire Nation) showed up outside the parliament building on the first day of the session armed to the teeth with guns, hand grenades, and military grade explosives to protest the modification and repeal of environmental and investment laws on the agenda.1
Several arrests were made, and a national conversation began about the political fringe in the country. But, it also ended any speculation about whether PM Altankhuyag’s government would have an easy time passing legislation with the expressed aim of demonstrating, as Foreign Minister Bold said at the World Economic Forum the weekend before, that “Mongolia is open for business.”2 Instead, it showed that politically things are far from under control at a time when consensus and decisive action are sorely needed.
The big surprise of the week, besides the “Gal Undesten” scare, was being reminded that there is an opposition party in parliament. “Oh, yeah,” you’re saying to yourself. “There’s the MPP. Where have those guys been?” Good question. The MPP has spent the last year fighting amongst themselves and trying to find their way after losing control of parliament after the 2012 elections. But, this week they appeared ready to come together as a team and make life miserable for the PM and his cabinet. Although still politically weak, the party gave a good effort at being a vigorous opposition. It reminded me of an old Mongolian proverb that I made up: Even a three legged wolf still has fangs.
And, did they ever flash those fangs. Here are a few quotes from the week.
In a press release from MPP to the government there was:
What has happened in the last year? Economic growth has unexpectedly weakened, FDI has declined by 42 percent. Our foreign debt has reached a historic USD 15 billion, reaching beyond a year’s GDP. The tugrik buying power is reduced, passing 1,700 per USD…That said, there is no reason for the decline in foreign and domestic investment other than over-politicizing of the critical industry [mining], using it as a tool for winning elections and a platform for populist and one-sided promises.3
There was MP J. Enkhbayar (MPP) saying to Minister of Mining Gankhuyag (DP) in a parliament committee meeting:
If you personally resign, foreign investment may actually increase by 20 percent. That’s the point, really. These problems were all brought about by your (party’s) stupidity.4
DP caucus leader Erdenebat said, “I am tired of hearing you speak,” after a long winded lecture from MPP senior leader Nyamdorj about the failures of the government, to which Nyamdorj responded:
Oh, you’re tired, the people are more tired than you from asking how they are going to buy bread or rice due to the strengthening dollar.5
To add to the attacks from the MPP, the coalition government showed it was hardly unified about strategy and policy. The DP is divided by factions, and on the issues being discussed in the special session, there seemed to be tension among members of the cabinet around strategy, especially in terms of how to assuage the worries of foreign investors generally while addressing outstanding issues between Rio Tinto and the government over Oyu Tolgoi specifically. Then there were the junior members of the coalition government (MPRP and Justice Coalition) who were in many ways opposed to the policy goals of the special session, producing a fairly robust opposition within the government itself even without the MPP flashing their fangs. And, of course, one could not forget the deep back-bencher, independent MPs who derive much of their support from the sentiment driving fringe groups like “Gal Undesten” to round out the challenge faced by the government in trying to demonstrate to the world that things are under control.
If this week was any indication of things to come, this autumn’s regular session of parliament will likely be an exercise in more raucous democracy. The description of “The Wild East” continues to be apt description of parliamentary politics in Mongolia.
1. See “Тэслэгч бодис нэмж илрүүлжээ”, News.mn, http://www.news.mn/content/156628.shtml, 2013-9-19.
2. L. Bold, “Closing remarks by Minister L.Bold at WEF Strategic Dialogue on Future of Mongolia”, http://boldlu.mn/en/english-closing-remarks-minister-l-bold-wef-strategic-dialogue-future-mongolia, 2013-9-18.
3. See “МАН-ын бүлэг дүгнэлтээ танилцуулав”, News.mn, http://politics.news.mn/content/156500.shtml, 2013-9-18.
4. Video clip broadcast on several local news stations from a Joint Standing Committee meeting in parliament 2013-9-17.
5. Г.Наран, “Чамаас илүү ард түмэн ядарч байна”, News.mn, http://politics.news.mn/content/156365.shtml, 2013-9-17.