UNOR AS THE shenanigans that preceded it, the result was remarkably clear. Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh won the Mongolian presidential elections, held on June 9. He became the first candidate in recent history to win more than two-thirds of the votes. His Mongolian People’s Party (Deputy) already has a qualified majority in parliament. After Mr. Khurelsukh takes office on June 25, he will have an even stronger grip on power.
Mr Khurelsukh was Prime Minister of Mongolia until January, when he resigned suddenly and ostentatiously over something that did not seem to demand it: Mongols had opposed images of a new mother shaking with cold while being transferred to a facility for patients with covid-19. It turned out that handing over the reins to a protégé was not an act of principle, but a ploy to get into a presidential race.
His campaign had to sidestep the traps set by incumbent President Khaltmaagiin Battulga of the opposition Democratic Party (DP). In April, courts ruled that Mr Battulga could not be re-elected (a constitutional amendment passed by the Deputy in 2019, limits presidents to a six-year term, although this does not apply to Mr. Battulga was previously unclear). A few days later, the president said he was banning the Deputy. This statement shocked the Mongols, but had little other effect. The party ignored his decree. The Supreme Court also refused to apply it.
The election was a disaster for the DP. Its leaders had argued over who to nominate as the party’s candidate. The man they chose, Sodnomzundui Erdene, only got 6% of the vote. Even some longtime supporters of the party have chosen to vote white rather than support it. It’s a new nadir for an outfit that was already struggling. He held almost half of the seats in parliament before his coalition lost the 2016 election. Today, he has less than a sixth.
The implosion of the opposition leaves the ruling party unchallenged. Although constitutional changes have diminished the power of the presidency, the position still grants control of the military, among other trophies. Mr. Erdene had argued that handing over the Deputy the presidency in addition to its supermajority would be dangerous. He campaigned under the slogan “Mongolia without dictatorship”. But many Mongols and foreign observers seem relaxed about the one-party regime. the Deputy is “quite fragmented internally,” says Sumati Luvsandendev of the Sant Maral Foundation, a pollster. He is convinced that strong factionalism within the party will help moderate his decision-making.
Either way, the poll underscored the depressing superficiality of many political debates. Loud personalities and quarrels over electoral rules drowned out useful things. The campaigns have given little time to larger issues such as managing relations with Russia and China, reducing unemployment, investing mineral wealth and diversifying the economy.
The electorate seems disengaged. The turnout of 59% was the lowest on record. Christian Sorace, who follows Mongolia to Colorado College in America, warns that the country’s political class is only piling up problems. “There is no political movement, party or politician that speaks directly to the massive socio-economic disparities in Mongolian society.” ■
This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the title “Race to a horse”