Two bitter political rivals in Mongolia have joined forces to form a coalition government that will rule the resource-rich nation for the next four years. The centre-left Democratic party, which won the recent election but fell short of an outright majority in parliament, agreed to form a coalition that includes the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary party, a breakaway party headed by Nambaryn Enkhbayar, the former head of state who is facing trial for corruption. Mongolia’s $10bn economy is one of the fastest-growing in the world and it sits atop vast reserves of copper, coal and gold. Many of those deposits are just starting to be developed, and the government that sits in power for the next four years will play a key role in shaping the direction of mining policies and the development of natural resources that are coveted by Mongolia’s larger neighbours, Russia and China.
It appears that President Elbegdorj has gotten his way and former President Enkhbayar will not be able to stand in the parliamentary elections this coming Thursday. Enkhbayar’s appeal to the Constitutional Court will not be heard until tomorrow, a mere two days before the election. At that point, the Constitutional Court will decide whether or not to even accept and review his petition. With the way things have been handled thus far, Enkhbayar will not be a candidate for his Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party. One would think that corrupting the democratic process to this point would be enough, but the current Mongolian government has gone even further. The Sukhhbaatar District Court has ruled that Enkhbayar cannot leave the city until his trial thereby preventing him from campaigning for his party in the countryside, Elbegdorj’s homeland.
Depending on whom one believes, Mongolia’s former president Nambaryn Enkhbayar is either a champion of democracy targeted for judicial persecution by an increasingly authoritarian regime or he is a corrupt charlatan whose finely crafted portrayal of martyrdom hoodwinked Washington, the United Nations and the European Union. The evidence suggests the second view is nearer the truth and Mongolia’s Constitutional Court has upheld a General Election Commission ruling that because Enkhbayar, president from 2005 to 2009, is facing five corruption charges, he is not eligible to run in parliamentary elections on June 28. That ruling has stalled and perhaps ended Enkhbayar’s attempts at a political comeback after his defeat in the 2009 presidential election.
The U.S. and other Western democracies have spent the better part of the last decade pushing for democratization across the globe. We have intervened in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and supported countless other efforts with aid and ideas to press democratic ideals for the disenfranchised and oppressed. While this is undoubtedly a worthy cause, there are still instances when even democratic nations need our attention. What is currently happening in Mongolia is a sharp reminder that we cannot ignore nations that are burgeoning democracies who suffer from crippling democracy deficits. Former Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar is due to stand trial today on charges of corruption and of misusing property and government powers. He was arrested in a televised dawn raid in April where viewers saw Mr. Enkhbayar shoved into a van with a sack over his head. The charges, he says, are a complete fabrication.
As he prepared to go on trial on corruption charges, the former president of Mongolia lay in a wrinkled hospital bed, where he was recovering from a 10-day hunger strike he waged to protest being held in detention by his successor’s government. Gaunt, barefoot and dressed in hospital-issue white pajamas, the former president, Nambaryn Enkhbayar, bore little resemblance to the populist leader who dominated Mongolian politics until he was defeated in 2009 by Tsakhia Elbegdorj, who now runs the country. But even in his apparently frail state, Mr. Enkhbayar angrily dismissed the charges against him in an interview on Wednesday, and criticized the timing of the trial as a ploy to remove him from the political arena just weeks before parliamentary elections. “If this is a political case, let’s do it now,” he said in fluent English. “But if we live in a real democratic country, and this is not just political theater, let’s take more time.”