Polls have opened for the Mongolian presidential election, with surveys suggesting incumbent Tsakhia Elbegdorj will win a second term. All three candidates are promising fairer wealth distribution from a mining boom. Voters in Mongolia went to the polls on Wednesday morning with election campaigning dominated by a national debate over mineral rights. Recent polls indicate that President Elbegdorj will retain the presidency, campaigning on a policy of using foreign cash to drive development. Since he was elected for a first term in 2009, Elbegdorj has also led a drive against corruption.Elbegdorj’s main challenger is likely to be Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) candidate Baterdene Badmaanyambuu, a former champion wrestler. Baterdene – who is particularly popular among rural voters – has portrayed himself as being committed to upholding national unity and has helped to draw up a new environmental protection law amid concern about the ravages of the recent mining boom.
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.”