Mongolia, 25 years from Soviet satellite to democratic partner

In 1990, like many countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Mongolia began its historic and peaceful transition to democracy. Although the world’s media were not focused on events in this Soviet satellite state, the International Republican Institute (IRI) opened an office and started the rewarding work of helping people gain a voice in their system of government.

{mosads}It was an exciting time for Mongolians and for IRI, and like many countries moving from one-party, authoritarian rule to multiparty democracy, the first elections were won by the formerly communist Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party. However, the democratic opposition did not give up. Over the next few years, with the help of IRI and others, they came together as a coalition, strengthened their platform and voter outreach efforts and campaigned hard.

Looking to the successful Contract with America, members of the U.S. Congress traveled to Mongolia and helped the democratic opposition develop their own Contract with Mongolia, which focused on synthesizing the parties’ various platforms and provided a coordinated strategy for grassroots voter outreach. Armed with a strong message that resonated with voters and a platform that addressed the needs of ordinary Mongolians, the opposition headed into the 1996 elections led by Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj. Winning 50 out of 76 seats that year, the democratic coalition took power and began to usher in a new era of openness.

From those early days of revolution and then transition, Mongolia has steadily strengthened its democratic institutions, market-based economy and its role in the region. And today, a free and democratic Mongolia faces choices — because they have choices.

Since Mongolia’s transition to multiparty democracy and market-based economy, Mongolia’s natural resources have offered great potential. In the past few years, the resource boom has helped Mongolia become one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies. However, these natural resources have also posed demanding hurdles for sustainable and effective management and many Mongolians have come to believe that development of its vast mining resources has not resulted in broad-based, inclusive growth and benefits across the land — a challenge many other countries face as well.

Today, friends of Mongolia should stand ready to help, much as we did a quarter century ago. And IRI’s experience in Mongolia, and our firm belief in the Mongolian people, shows us that much of that needed help doesn’t have to mean money. The need we see is a focused effort to build institutions of collaborative development and constructive engagement — between communities and investors, citizens and businesses. For if democracy is to succeed anywhere, it must engage citizens and improve their daily lives.

To make Mongolia’s democracy even more vibrant and meaningful for everyday citizens, we must forge and enshrine a dialogue involving government, business and civil society. We must make democracy work not only inside the parliament, but in communities all across the country.

In the business world, people talk about the concept of shared value to measure not just how to improve core business performance, but also how to improve socioeconomic outcomes and support community development. That same concept can be at the heart of new governance in and around Mongolia’s resource-driven development — creating shared, value-driven plans and timing those plans with shared victory.

To do this, Mongolia needs to not only engage citizens in community development, but they also need to address a challenge that faces every country: corruption. In economic terms, corruption robs citizens of their birthright, it saps an economy of its potential by diverting resources from their highest and best use and it scares investors from investing, from creating jobs and building a revenue base.

In democratic terms, corruption shakes people’s faith in their leaders and destroys their will to fully participate in shaping their country’s future. The good news is Mongolia has leaders who understand the evil that corruption presents, and leaders who are willing to take it on, leaders like Capital City Governor and Mayor of Ulaanbaatar Erdeniin Bat-Üül, who has made fighting corruption his No. 1 priority.

And this is another area where Mongolia’s friends, specifically the U.S., need to continue to support the country’s efforts. At IRI, we have helped Bat-Üül wage his battle against corruption by providing technical assistance and support. We have helped identify vulnerabilities to corruption within the municipal government in the areas of land allocation, public procurement and permits, and have outlined specific recommendations on how the Ulaanbaatar city government can address those vulnerabilities. To show his commitment to this effort, Bat-Üül publicly signed the Ulaanbaatar Declaration against Corruption during a two-day forum co-hosted by IRI and others. And with IRI’s technical support and input, Bat-Üül crafted a five-year strategic plan to fight corruption that passed by the Ulaanbaatar city council this past January.

These are the efforts that need our support if Mongolia is going to grow and thrive, economically and democratically. A democratic anchor in an increasingly undemocratic region, Mongolia is uniquely positioned to be a role model of successful democratic transition as well as a case study in how to address the myriad challenges that a new and consolidating democracy faces. American investment — financial and technical — is the key to meeting that need and doing so in the right way: transparently and in line with sound market principles so that broad-based economic growth can surge once again.

Green is president of the International Republican Institute, former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania and former member of Congress representing Wisconsin’s 8th District.

Tags Democracy Erdeniin Bat-Üül International Republican Institute IRI Mongolia Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj Ulaanbaatar Ulan Bator

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