Following the resignation of Prime Minister (PM) Ukhnaa Khurelsukh, Mongolia partially redefined its political landscape with the forming of the cabinet of its new, young Prime Minister. On 27 January 2021, the State Great Khural — the Mongolian Parliament — appointed the new Prime Minister. A scandal concerning a COVID-19 patient (involving a mother and her new-born baby’s relocation to a specialist quarantaine facility) had led to major protests and ultimately to the dismissal of PM Ukhnaa Khurelsukh, appointed after the June 2020 parliamentary election. The incident sparked popular protests, topping public dissatisfaction caused by the lack of job opportunities and the vulnerable economic condition of Mongolia. The choice of the new PM fell on Mr Luvsannamsrai Oyun-Erdene, who became Mongolia’s 32nd Prime Minister and one of the youngest Prime Ministers currently in office. Notably, he was backed by an 87.9 percent approval rate in the State Great Khural new PM vote.
Who is Luvsannamsrai Oyun-Erdene?
Born in 1980 in Ulaanbaatar, L. Oyun -Erdene holds majors in journalism, law and political sciences and started his political career in 2008 as the Head of the Social Development Department of Bayanzurkh District Governor’s Secretariat. From 2011 to 2012 he served as the Secretary for the Mongolian People’s Party, to become its Acting General Secretary in 2012. In 2015, he completed his MA degree in Public Administration at Harvard University, returning to Mongolia to become a member of Parliament in 2016, serving as Cabinet Secretary from 2017.
According to Bolor Lkhaajav and Julian Dierkes, Oyun-Erdene belongs to a new generation of Mongolians who are too young to have taken part in the 1990 democratic revolution. Showing a break from those politicians trained under the Soviet Union rule, this new era is opening the door for a new generation of politicians. Deeply policy-focused as he is, L. Oyun-Erdene devoted his time under U. Khurelsukh’s administration to the designing of Mongolia’s Vision 2050. As one of the architects and main promoters of this long-term strategy, he aims to boost Mongolia’s development, establishing a path for the country in fighting climate change, while creating opportunities for sustainable development. Furthermore, with his appointment he introduced a number of new Ministers, blowing somewhat of a new wind through the Mongolian political landscape. On January 29, 2021, L. Oyun-Erdene issued the ordinance for his new cabinet, presenting eight new names to join his administration.
How real is this Generational Turn?
Among the newly appointed members of the cabinet we find Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) S. Amarsaikhan ( a Member of Parliament since 2020). Before taking up his position as DPM, he served as mayor of Ulaanbaatar between 2019 and 2020. Before that he was the CEO of Oyunii-Undraa Group (one of the first private sector companies active in Mongolia’s core economic sectors including Mining, Banking and Finance, ICT and Real Estate). He was also a consular officer at the Mongolian Embassy in China. Besides him, the new Head of Cabinet Secretariat is Tsendiin Nyamdorj, lawmaker since 1981 and an important figure in the Mongolian Political landscape.
The Ministry of Environment and Tourism is now led by N. Urtnasan (Class of 1975). She graduated in journalism from the National University of Mongolia and later on specialised in environmental journalism in Japan and Germany. She worked as an editor and reporter for the Mongolian National Broadcaster, where she was in charge of environment and responsible mining. Furthermore, she has also been CEO for Uni Solar LLC and New World Television.
The new Minister of Finance is lawmaker Boldyn Javkhlan (Class of 1975) who worked as Deputy Vice President of the Bank of Mongolia, resigning to enter Parliament in 2016. In addition, Minister Batmönkhiin Battsetseg is the New Minister of Foreign Affairs, while the new Minister of Culture is Chinbatyn Nomin (Class of 1983) who studied Economics and Accounting at the Universities of Cambridge, East Anglia and Harvard and has been CEO of Mongol HD TV since 2011. The appointed Minister of Health is S. Enkhbold and the Minister of Education and Science is MP L. Enkh-Amgalan, elected lawmaker in 2012 who served as secretary of the Montsame Agency. Meanwhile, the reappointed members include the Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs Khishgeegiin Nyambaatar, Minister of Labour and Social Protection Ayuushiin Ariunzaya, Minister of Construction and Urban Development Begjavyn Munkhbaatar, Minister of Defence Gürsediin Saikhanbayar, Minister of Road and Transport Development Luvsangiin Khaltar, Minister Mining and Heavy Industry Gelengiin Yondon, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry Zagdjavyn Mendsaikhan and Minister of Energy Nansalyn Tavinbekh.
By re-appointing most of the previous administration’s Cabinet members, bearing on their expertise, the new Prime Minister made a clear statement by prioritising stability over new faces, especially in times of crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Noteworthy, many of the ministers pursued their studies overseas. There are also three newly appointed women among the members of Cabinet — Minister B. Battsetseg, Minister Ch. Nomin and Minister Urtnasan — totalling four female ministers with A. Ariunzaya, who was re-appointed from the previous administration.
The inclusion of such a share of women at the highest decision-making level marks a first for the Mongolian Government. Also, the new Minister of Health S. Enkhbold counts as an interesting choice, having served as the Director of the State Central Hospital since 2009. Other noteworthy appointments are the Foreign Affairs Minister and the new head of Cabinet. The New Minister in charge of the Foreign Office, Minister B. Battsetseg (Class of 1973) holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the Mongolian National University and a second one in Business Administration from the University of Finance and Economics in Ulaanbaatar. In addition, she holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. Her appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs springs from her notable experience in the diplomatic field, having served as the Head of Foreign Relations and Cooperation Department of the MPP from 2010 to 2012, and more recently as Mongolia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2016 and 2020.
The Cabinet assumes a generational mix, with seven members belonging to the generation born between 1975 and 1985, with Minister Ch. Nomin being the youngest in office. Notably, this generation was too young to have taken part in the democratic revolution of thirty years ago. The other appointed Cabinet members being slightly older, the new head of Cabinet can be considered the most senior one and a scholar of an older class of Politicians. As Bulgan B, Marissa Smith and Julian Dierkes rightly pointed out, despite a change in generations having been set in motion, the process has only started and a real generational shift is yet to take place. Head of Cabinet Ts. Nyamdorj, (Class of 1956) is one of the most eminent Mongolian political personalities. After graduating from Leningrad State University in 1981 he became a lawyer, serving as prosecutor and later becoming the unit and department head of the State General Prosecution Office between 1981 and 1988. Between 1992 and 2020 he was elected seven times as a Member of Parliament, and from 1998 to 1999 he acted as the Head of Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (the previous name of the MPP) group in Parliament. Additionally, he served as Minister of Justice during three terms (2000-2004, 2008-2012, and 2017-2020). In recent years he was featured in the news for his role in the Parliamentary standing committees for the investigation on the privatisation of Erdenet.
One can observe a certain sense of continuity between the L. Oyun-Erdene cabinet and the previous one under U. Khurelsukh. While a new cabinet does not necessarily represent a drastic generational turn, it embodies how Mongolia’s political landscape is changing. A younger, highly educated abroad political class is ready to take over, starting to cover leading roles in further developing the country. For the current cabinet the sense of continuity is the most desired outcome for an MPP that wishes to maintain the priorities set by the Khurelsukh’s administration, especially with regard to mining and oil refinery projects. With the ongoing pandemic and the recent approval of Mongolia’s Vision2050, it seems that the new cabinet’s priorities will be accompanied by a significant integration of new policies.
With the new PM as the main designer and promoter of Vision 2050, the strategy will form the core of the next Mongolian administration. The plan marks a turn in Mongolia’s policy-making and development strategy alike. Prior to 1990, the country’s development model was directly inherited from the Soviet Union, while after 1992 it followed a Western model without an adequate adaptation to the characteristics and specific needs of the country. The 2050 strategy will accompany Mongolia for the next 30 years, but the first medium-term action plan has already been set in motion. From the Action Plan strategy for 2021-2030 the main areas of interest lie in Education, Human, Digital, Scientific and Green development, with Health playing an important role.
One of the effects of the Pandemic was the creation of the E-Mongolia platform, offering a range of online government services for citizens during the pandemic. The platform serves as a basis for the development of a strong and efficient e-governance strategy and will continue to be developed by diversifying the services it offers. It is possible that the development of an efficient e-government strategy could prove useful for another priority of the administration: the fight against political corruption. For Mongolia’s human development the protagonist will be the middle class, a group that the government wishes to enlarge, thereby reducing economic, social and geographical gaps between its citizens. It is important to note the emphasis on Green development depicted in the Vision. Mongolia, like many other countries in the region, displayed a strategy aimed at reducing emissions, pollution and the country’s climate impact, as well as fostering sustainable development. While this aspect will certainly have effects on the urban and rural development of the country. It also touches upon another important aspect of the recent events that occurred. Reading the document for Approval of the Action Plan of the Government of Mongolia for 2020-2024 for instance, it is the interest related to mining infrastructures that captures the eye. One of the main goals inherited from the previous administration is to create a sustainable and multi-pillar economic structure and implement the principle of fair distribution of wealth by developing transparent and responsible mining and value-added industry and ensuring the growth of mineral revenues. This aim will bring back attention to both the Oyu Tolgoi mining project involving Rio-Tinto, and the Erdenet mining corporation ownership that until now saw in the newly appointed Cabinet Secretariat Ts. Nyamdorj one of the main protagonists in the investigation occurred for its privatisation. While the Cabinet was approved only recently, it will be worthwhile to see which direction the country will take in the next couple of years.
PM L. Oyun-Erdene summarised the action plan that his cabinet will follow in 4 main key objectives: to overcome the Pandemic within a short time, to recover the economy of the country, strengthening and supporting the middle class and improving justice and online governance. The key challenges awaiting the new cabinet are connected to the need to improve infrastructures and transportation throughout the country to ease the exporting sector of Mongolia. Two related important projects in act right now are the two railways that will connect Tavan Tolgoi with Gashuunsukhait and with Zuunbayan.
Another sector in which Mongolia hopes to become more competitive is the touristic one. The Tourism sector will be among the sectors required to recover after the pandemic, once the people will be allowed to travel again and airways will be reopened. Mongolia is one of the most scenographic countries in the world holding a great potential as a tourist destination. Current problems the tourism industry faces in the country are connected to logistical strategies, which the new cabinet aims at solving with an efficient digitalisation of the tourism sector, including e-embassy services, e-visas and better infrastructure. Income inequality is also a challenge the Cabinet will have to face, especially with regard to the goal of boosting the country’s middle class. Education, Sustainability and Digitalisation are the core of the Cabinet’s goal and are emphasised in Vision 2050. The first challenge remains a complete and successful recovery from the Pandemic that, despite the contagion itself being successfully contained, has had a long-lasting effect on the population’s psychological health, economic and social well-being.
Fighting the Pandemic together: New Opportunities for EU-Mongolia Cooperation
With hopes of the end of the Pandemic approaching, it is important for the EU to recognise the opportunities of the turn Mongolia is taking. In 2021, the EU and Mongolia started launching a number of new projects prioritising the protection of vulnerable population categories. The first one (Recovering Together) is an 18-months project launched in cooperation with World Vision, implemented in Ulaanbaatar and the provinces of Uvurkhangai and Bayan-Ulgii. It is targeted at protecting vulnerable households from the effect of Covid-19, thereby limiting the effects on health, nutrition, and livelihood. The second one, with a duration of 15 months will target children and their right to access to justice during the pandemic.
Lockdown measures have had several effects on households, including an increase of domestic and gender-based violence and violence on children. Mitigating the Impact of COVID-19 by “Increasing Children’s Access to Justice in Mongolia” was launched in partnership with the International Development Law Organisation (IDLO). The project aims at helping their social recovery related to crimes against children. Visibly, the new year and the instalment of the new Cabinet has brought new cooperation opportunities between the EU and Mongolia, especially in view of Vision 2050, as well as a chance to develop a common response to the many effects of the pandemic and a lasting cooperation to face its aftermath. The question is how this opportunity will be seized.
Author: Alessandra Tamponi, Junior Researcher
Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons