Mongolia’s Slide Toward Autocracy Should Set Off Alarm Bells For West

In an earlier article, I highlighted the importance of former Mongolian president Nambar Enkhbayar’s corruption trial for the fate of democracy in Mongolia. The charges logged against Enkhbayar represent a political vendetta on the part of the current president, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, and threaten to sideline Enkhbayar in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

In just a matter of days, things have gotten worse for Enkhbayar and, most importantly, for democracy in Mongolia. Yesterday, elections officials formally barred Enkhbayar from participating in the parliamentary elections later this month. The reason the General Election Committee gave? Enkhbayar’s integrity.

In an unexpected twist, they also barred Enkhbayar’s son, Batshugar, from standing in the elections as well. They said that he was ineligible to run because he had failed to serve the mandatory two years in the Mongolian army.

Similarly to his father’s case, Batshugar Enkhbayar was prevented from registering with the Mongolian military by the current government. He was a suspect in the fabricated litigation case against his father for over a year. The government dropped the charges against him on May 10th – crucially, two days after the military registration office closed. If he had not been a suspect he would have registered with the military office and would be free to stand in the elections.

Enkhbayar’s Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party is appealing the constitutional court’s ruling that prevents Enkhbayar from standing. Their argument is that the ruling is premature as he has yet to be convicted on the corruption charges.

The political threat that Enkhbayar poses to the current government is clear. Under new election rules some seats in the 76-seat parliament will be awarded based on the proportion of votes won while others will be contested through majority rule. It is well known that Enkhbayar’s party was expected to win enough seats to play a role in deciding the next government, a grim reality for current President Elbegdorj.

With each day, democracy becomes further at risk in Mongolia. If Enkhbayar and his son are not permitted to stand in the upcoming elections, it is clear that the era of democratic politics in Mongolia will be over.

This is a risk that the West can ill-afford. Mongolia’s strategic position between Russia and China makes it of paramount importance that it remains a democracy. If Mongolia backslides, its rich mining deposits and vast mineral wealth will be up for grabs in the region.

The international democratic community must band together in support of Enkhbayar and his son. With each new development, Mongolia slips further towards autocracy. As the West has done for other countries, it is important that the U.S. and other leading democracies cooperate to send a message to the Mongolian government that anything but free and fair elections will not be tolerated by the international community.