Wikileaks 2008, Minton:MONGOLIAN DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: PARTIES MULL JUNE 29
STATE FOR OPS CTR, EAP/CM, EAP/EX, DRL, INR/EAP
STATE PASS TO DEPT OF AGRICULTURE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/27/2018
TAGS: PREL ECON SOCI MARR PGOV MG
SUBJECT: MONGOLIAN DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: PARTIES MULL JUNE 29 PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS PROSPECTS
REF: A. ULAANBAATAR 0290
B. ULAANBAATAR 0305
Classified By: Classified by Ambassador Mark C. Minton.
Reasons 1.4 (A), (B), (D)
1. (C) SUMMARY: Mongolian voters head to the polls on Sunday, June 29, to elect all 76 members of its parliament. This will be the fifth election since Mongolia peacefully cast aside its authoritarian, communist system in 1990/91, beginning its democratic transformation. With public frustration running high over unemployment, soaring prices and corruption, ruling Mongolian People,s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) senior officials were cautious about their prospects ahead of June 29 parliamentary elections, while the opposition Democratic Party (DP) was expecting (rightly or wrongly) to make a strong showing. It was unclear whether the MPRP, which holds 38 of parliament’s 76 seats (compared with 25 for the DP), would lose enough ground for there to be a shift in the balance of power. It is also difficult to predict the prospects of smaller parties, including Civil Will, Motherland, New National and Republican (as well as independents, who account for 45 of the 356 candidates).
2. (C) The ostensibly independent General Election Commission (GEC), often criticized by opposition parties, said the infrastructure was in place for free and fair elections. In the last Parliamentary elections, in 2004, voters in 76 districts cast ballots for a single candidate. This time, each voter will pick two, three or four candidates in one of 26 multi-member districts (six are in Ulaanbaatar, 20 in the provinces). The GEC said this change might confuse voters, and many observers expected vote-counting to be protracted (one polling station official predicted 20 to 30 hours). Some parties expressed concern over runoffs, which they felt were likely; the Election Law was vague on how runoffs should be carried out. Sixty-six women were seeking office, the largest such field in Mongolian history. At least 120 foreign election observers, from at least 17 countries, plan to observe the elections, including 16 delegates of the Asia Pacific Democracy Partnership and 23 observers from Embassy UB.
POLLING STATIONS PREPARE FOR SUNDAY ELECTIONS
3. (C) From 7 am to 10 pm on Election Day, July 29, voters will visit the country,s 1,700 polling stations strewn across three time zones and a space the size of Alaska to select all 76 members of Parliament. Eleven parties and one three-party coalition are contesting the elections. (Note: Some observers put the party total at 15, but the People’s Party, which registered for the elections, has since been “folded into” the DP, according to the GEC. End Note.) The GEC anticipated heavy voter turnout. (In the previous elections, in 2004, turnout was roughly 80%.) At polling stations in Ulaanbaatar, home to nearly 39% of Mongolia’s 1,561,248 registered voters, post’s election observers reported no major problems in early voting on June 26 or 27 (for those unable to vote on June 29 due to work or illness).
FINAL CAMPAIGN MOOD AND ATTITUDE: MORE MUD-SLINGING
4. (C) Reftels describe the first few weeks of Mongolia’s month-long campaign season. With just a few days before the polls and the day before campaigning ceases campaigning is not allowed by law on Saturday, the day before election, the mud-slinging continued, as the country’s two biggest parties ) the ruling MPRP and opposition DP ) each had taken to promising citizens a share of the mining wealth in Mongolia, which remained underdeveloped but rich in coal, gold and copper.
MANY DISSATISFIED WITH PARLIAMENT, INFLATION
5. (C) Voters looking back after MPRP Chairman S. Bayar became Prime Minister in November 2007 will recall his first priority, after setting up a new Government, would be to focus on rising consumer prices. Since then, however, food and fuel prices have continued to increase (as in many other countries and not as a result of Bayar’s polices or actions). The MPRP argued that Bayar’s administration has laid the foundation for long-term growth )- per-capita income has more than doubled since 2004, and GDP growth has averaged more than 9% annually -) but MPRP members privately conceded that public frustration was running high. Mongolians identified inflation as among their top concerns, along with unemployment and corruption. A survey carried out by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in May found 80% of surveyed voters dissatisfied with Parliament,s performance (up from 68% two months earlier). It remains to be seen to what extent this dissatisfaction will result in anti-incumbent action at the ballot box, but the MPRP, with 38 seats in Parliament, has the most to lose.
MPRP LEADER’S CAUTIOUS ASSESSMENT…
6. (C) In a June 26 meeting with the Ambassador, PM Bayar seemed to acknowledge the high level of public frustration, by identifying “living conditions” as the most important issue facing the Mongolian people and noting that citizens are unhappy with the performance of civil servants. “People also want to know why Parliament hasn’t been able to pass the mining legislation,” he added. Bayar said it was difficult to predict the outcome of the elections, but said MPRP Secretary General Otgonbayar expected the MPRP to win between 36 and 38 seats (30 of them in the provinces, where the MPRP has traditionally derived much support). The PM conceded that the MPRP was “not doing well in UB,” adding that he expected the DP to wrest two or three seats from the MPRP in southwestern provinces. Bayar said he had heard the DP,s Chairman (and former Prime Minister), Elbegdorj, speculate that the DP would win 50 to 55 seats; the PM said a reality check was in order. Bayar said that in some ways, he would welcome a DP election victory because it would force the DP to act responsibly, after consistently obstructing all MPRP initiatives ) even mutually agreed upon and worthy ones, particularly those related to mining. Bayar also said he believed that among DP Members of Parliament, those most likely to win re-election belonged to the DP,s “Polar Star” faction, which has not always cooperated well with the DP faction led by Elbegdorj (and is perhaps closest to the MPRP politically). (COMMENT: Post believes Bayar is also concerned that the absence of a clear majority for either party will lead to an impasse and the parliament’s continued paralysis at a time when Mongolia must set clear goals and enact important, future-shaping legislation on mining. END COMMENT.)
… AND DEMOCRATS CAUTIOUSLY HOPEFUL
7. (C) Although some DP officials privately expressed optimism about their party’s election prospects, Elbegdorj has generally struck a more cautious tone. On June 19, he told post,s E/P Chief and other USG officials that it was difficult to compete against the MPRP, which he said “controls most local governments.” Elbegdorj said more than 90% of all local-government officials and local-assembly members in Mongolia are members of the MPRP, noting that pensions and many other payments are disbursed through local governments. Regarding election outcomes, Elbegdorj saw two plausible scenarios. In one, either the DP or the MPRP would “win big,” capturing 60 or 70 of the 76 seats in Parliament. In the other scenario, the DP would win roughly 36 seats, the MPRP 33 and smaller parties around seven seats. Note: To be able to form a Government without teaming up with other parties, a single party would have to win at least 39 seats in Parliament. End Note.) The DP chief said one encouraging sign for his party was that MPRP voters who switched parties tended to join the DP, while DP voters who switched parties tended to join smaller parties.
SMALLER PARTIES AND INDEPENDENTS
8. (C) Although the MPRP and DP dominated Parliamentary proceedings and accounted for 63 of the 76 seats in Parliament, five other parties held Parliamentary seats. Civil Will and New National were junior partners in the MPRP,s coalition Government. Joining the Democratic Party in the Parliamentary opposition were the Motherland and Republican parties. (The People,s Party, led by populist Gundalai, held a single seat in Parliament, but effectively ceased to exist following its absorption by the DP.) PM Bayar of the MPRP told the Ambassador on July 26 that he expected Civil Will ( MP and Foreign Minister Oyun,s party) and other small parties to do poorly on Election Day, adding, “This could push them into street protests.” Also in Parliament were three independent candidates, all affiliated with the DP. Forty-five of the country,s 356 candidates are independents; according to one long-time observer of Mongolia’s political scene, five of these 45 were likely to win office (Sairaan, Jargal, Baasan, Altai and Tsogt). Many of the smaller parties and independent candidates criticized the move to a multi-member-district system, saying it benefited only the two big parties. (Note: If, as post suspects, neither the MPRP nor the DP wins 39 or more seats, and if, as Elbegdorj has made clear to Post, the DP,s leadership has repeatedly stressed it would not form a coalition Government with the MPRP, the smaller parties and independents elected to Parliament could play a disproportionately large king-maker role in determining the formation of the next governing coalition. End Note.)
ELECTION COMMISSION CITES CONCERNS
9. (C) The General Election Commission, accused of pro-MPRP bias (seven of its nine members are or have been affiliated with the MPRP), has generally met key legal deadlines in preparing for these elections, and said the electoral framework was in place for free and fair elections. On June 19, the GEC,s Chairman, Battulga, told us that he had three areas of concern. The first was that voters, used to picking a single candidate, would be confused by the new multiple-selection ballots used for the multi-member constituencies. The second was that fewer than 50% of voters might cast ballots in a given district, thus invalidating the vote under Mongolia’s Election Law. The third, he said, was the Election Law requirement that to win election to Parliament, a candidate had to win at least 25% of the votes cast. While this would not present a challenge in a single-seat district, Battulga said, it could easily cause runoffs in the new multi-member districts. (Note: The Election Law is inconclusive on how runoffs should be handled. The GEC has requested that the Supreme Court interpret this statute, but as of June 27, no such opinion had been made public. Some election observers worried that due to uncertainties regarding the timing and implementation of runoffs, the final election results could be delayed, perhaps for an extended period. Other observers expressed concern that vote-counting could be prolonged at many polling stations. Indeed, one poll worker predicted his district, with 19 candidates, would require 20 to 30 hours to complete its tabulations. End Note.)
MPRP, DP TRADE ACCUSATIONS OF ELECTION FRAUD
10. (C) The MPRP and DP were less restrained in articulating their election-related concerns. “The MPRP has rigged elections in the past, at the local level,” Elbegdorj told us, wondering aloud what would stop the MPRP from doing the same this time. The DP Chairman also accused the MPRP of receiving “cheating advice” from Kremlin officials, a move that he said “shows Mongolia’s importance to Russia.” MPRP Sec Gen Otgonbayar, for his part, told us that Democratic operators were systematically and illegally transferring UB-based workers to two hotly contested election districts in the provinces. Otgonbayar also said the MPRP was very concerned that parties other than the MPRP would resort to multiple voting, and using voter IDs of the deceased. He called it incomprehensible that the GEC decided not to take off the voter lists the names of Mongolians residing overseas. He said UB alone is home to 30,000 such people, and that the GEC,s decision opens the door to fraud.
IT,S DEBATABLE ) GEC SAYS NO IT,S NOT
11. (C) Late on June 26, the MPRP and DP Chiefs, PM Bayar and former PM Elbegdorj, held their first and only debate, televised live on commercial TV. The debate was intended to be broadcast by Mongolian National Television (with nation-wide coverage), but the latter balked after the GEC informed it that if MNTV were to broadcast the event, the network would be violating Election Law requirements that all parties and candidates receive equal airtime on public broadcasters. In the debate, Elbegdorj criticized the Bayar administration for failing to hold the line on prices; Bayar shot back that Elbegdorj,s DP deserved responsibility for blocking MPRP efforts on this front.
12. (C) The last IRI election survey, in May, found support for the DP running at 32%; the MPRP, 28%; Civil Will, 3%; other parties, 4%; and undecided, 26%. A slightly more recent Sant Maral survey saw the DP’s modest lead declining and a slight improvement in the MPRP’s standing. Regionally, the survey found the DP stronger than the MPRP in UB and the east, and the MPRP much stronger than the DP in the west. The MPRP held a slight advantage in the northwest, while in north-central Mongolia, the DP held a slight edge. The survey also found that although support for the DP and MPRP is evenly mixed among the lower and working classes, middle-class Mongolians are more likely to support the DP, and more upper-class Mongolians are more likely to support the MPRP. On the question of whether the country is headed in the right direction, those who responded in the affirmative were most likely to cite the existence of press freedom, construction and infrastructure improvement, increased quality of life, freedom of travel and increased wages/growth. Those who responded negatively were most likely to cite improper work by government officials, poverty, inflation, orruption/bureaucracy and unemployment.
13. (C) At least 120 foreign election observers, from no less than 17 countries, were deployed to observe the Mongolian elections, including 16 delegates of the Asia Pacific Democracy Partnership and 23 observers from Embassy Ulaanbaatar. The APDP’s Election Observation Mission, organized by IRI, has dispatched observers to the cities of Darkhan, Sukbaatar (Selenge Province), Erdenet and Ondorkhan (Khentii Province), as well as UB. Post’s election observers have been dispatched to the cities of Khovd, Bulgan, Tsetserleg (Arkhangai Province) and Baganuur (Tov Province), as well as the capital. According to the GEC, the Chinese, Estonians, French and Russians also deployed observers, as did Germany.
EMBASSY’S ELECTION OPERATIONS
14. (U) Embassy Ulaanbaatar,s Election Monitoring Team consists of four mobile units in the provinces, two mobile units in the capital, and a Command Center at the Embassy. Post will contact the Ops Center with periodic updates on and immediately after June 29. The Command Center’s telephone number is 9756-11-329-095, ext. 4747.