Amid important elections and transitions taking place this year in different parts of the world, it is easy to overlook the parliamentary election to be held in Mongolia on June 28. On that day, the country will choose its next government in one of the most consequential elections in its recent history. Consequential because―in a country with a 30 percent poverty level―the new government will be asked to manage the unprecedented revenues expected from its mining wealth in such a way as to benefit the many, not the few. As experiences elsewhere have shown, bad governance and mining wealth have rarely been a good mix for the fortunes of a developing resource-rich country. In the coming years, the challenge for Mongolia’s newly elected leaders and the country as a whole will be to rise to the occasion and not squander the opportunity presented to bring prosperity to its citizens, strengthen the economic underpinning for a sustainable democracy, and consolidate its international status.
The gravest danger to Mongolia’s brighter prospects comes, sadly, from corruption. This threat to democracy did not suddenly emerge with the arrest of a former president (later charged with corruption) in April 2012. Already back in August 2005, an Assessment of Corruption in Mongolia, conducted on behalf of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) noted “the blurring of the line between the public and private sector brought about by an endemic and systemic conflict of interests at nearly all levels.” The report noted the existence of a spoils system, and limited political will and political leadership to implement reforms. This report was a comprehensive assessment with important recommendations that should have triggered alarms. But in the absence of political will subsequent attempts to tame corruption, such as the creation of an anti-corruption agency and passage of a relevant legislation, did not yield the desired results. Politics was allowed to be dominated by interests seeking to attain personal gains, and the culture of permissiveness toward corruption became the hallmark of the 2000s. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for Mongolia stood at 4.3 in 1999, went down to 3.0 by 2004, and down further to 2.7 by 2009. It has stayed there since. (The CPI is measured on a scale of ten to one; the higher the score the cleaner the country. In 2011 the top scorer was New Zealand at 9.5, Somalia and North Korea shared the lowest score of 1).