The official results will be announced tomorrow (Tuesday), but so far this is how it looks:
MAXH (MPRP) 43 seats (57%)
AN (DP) 25 seats (33%)
Busad (Others) 1 seat (1%)
Todroogui (Yet to be determined) 7 (9%)
One could almost call it a landslide. Not entirely sure how I feel about it. Disappointed perhaps. Disappointed that the public seem to be voting mostly for the highest bidder on the handout promises. Is that the case? I can't be too sure. Considering those living below the poverty line, I do not blame them. In some ways, the Democrats have themselves to blame for the loss in this election. While they led an aggressive campaign, one could say it was a case of too little too late. Too many factions. Many former-DP (or Democratic Coalition) members ran as independents or minority party reps against the DP and the MPRP. Now all that is left is for us to wait and see if the next 4 years with MPRP in power bring about the changes beneficial to our people. Or are we going to be stuck in limbo for another four years once again to vote in the MPRP. Can Bayar unify his party factions to form a strong government? I somehow doubt it, seeing as he is faced against equally or perhaps even more powerful MPRP members like Enkhbayar (well, former, having had to resign from his party membership when he became the president, but he is very influential in the circle) and Bagabandi and others. Will he effect the new law to elect the president from the parliament? His first step in office as the newly reelected PM will be to seal the deal on the Minerals Law. What next?
Will he work with the Democrats to bring about the industrialisation as the DP's promised to do? I must admit though that Bayar seems more like a leader who might just put the interests of Mongolia over those of his political party. Time will tell.
Monday, June 30, 2008
The official results will be announced tomorrow (Tuesday), but so far this is how it looks:
Against all expectations, MPRP (MAXH) looks set to win this election, with 38 confirmed seats from the rural regions only as of this afternoon, which makes 50% of total seats. UB City results are not yet out. MPRP has already started the celebration by thanking their supporters during a press conference.
I do not know what to say. MPRP has a lot of support from the rural areas, while the DP's main support base is in UB and central regions. I suppose you could say that the majority of voters voted for S.Bayar rather than for the MPRP. Nevertheless, here we go again for another 4 years.
So there are various media outlets covering the elections, I don't know if I should bother writing about it. I shouldn't say various really. Coz they just seem to plagiarise from one report.
Here's a Reuters India article and an Al Jazeera International article covering the elections. A common theme in all these articles is the fact that "many riding on camel or horseback and some in traditional dress, headed to cast their votes". Now, I understand. I don't think there are many nations where the people arrive on horsebacks to do anything. It must be fascinating to the foreign journalists to see people riding horses or camels to the polling stations. One rarely gets to read about the various modes of transport people use to get to their elections in the news. It is not so fascinating to read something like "Americans, many driving cars and wearing T-shirts, headed to their polling stations. Some also walked."
Mongolia must seem so exotic and alien, in a very "from another planet" sense of the word. All the reports have someone in a traditional dress saying something, or a photo of another lady in a "traditional dress, called deel" at a polling station, or some mention of us being mainly nomadic herders. I have yet to find a photo of a rider on horseback charging at a polling station, which I'm sure will surface soon. One has to laugh.
In other news, they say the turnout is around 75% this year. We await with anticipation and dread at the possibility of another hung parliament.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
So the stats are in. According to an interview with B.Battulga, chairman of the General Election Committee, these are the latest numbers:
Total of 356 candidates running for election, of whom 66 are women.
166 are running from Ulaanbaatar constituencies. 190 from 20 rural constituencies.
97% of all candidates have higher education.
The numbers may change as we near Sunday. Another thing I noticed is that there is a conspicuous lack of election coverage on the English news sites from Mongolia, like the UBPost. I suppose nobody wants to sit around and translate things like "Candidates paying students US$20 per piece to sabotage their opponents' campaign posters".
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Wall Street Journal ran a piece on Mongolia, urging the US government to step up its relationship with Mongolia and perhaps even increase the Millenium Challenge funding directed at infrastructure development in Mongolia. Excerpts:
Similar tactics are afoot in other sectors of Mongolia's economy. Russian enterprises already own 49% of Mongolia's national railway and its largest copper and gold mining companies (Erdenet). An industrial group founded by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wants to consolidate the Russian-controlled shares of all three companies, effectively giving Mr. Putin's cronies a near-stranglehold on key players in the Mongolian economy. Officially, Mongolian officials express confidence in the benefits of deeper economic relations with Russia. Privately, they admit to feeling pressured into opening up their markets to Moscow, and wish more Western companies would invest.The increasing Russian influence in Mongolia is starting to make China and the US nervous. Just last week, the VP of China, Xi Jinping visited Mongolia and hurriedly signed 10 cooperative agreements.
Read the full article here
Now more than ever, Mongolia feels the need for help in our attempt to balance the power struggle between our two big neighbours. In the early days of the 20th century before the shroud of Communism fell over us, Mongolia had attempted to establish diplomatic ties with Japan, Germany & France amongst others. None were interested or powerful enough to help us make a stand against the Bolsheviks. Today, given the new discoveries of natural resources, finding friends should not be very challenging. But is there a single country influential and powerful enough to help offset the power and influence of our two neighbours, I wonder. USA is without a doubt influential and powerful enough, but their focus isn't on the political intricacies of Central Asia. I don't think we can afford to wait till the US gets done with the Iraq problem... in about 200 years. But you never know what will happen once the Bush administration is replaced.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF) has urged the US government to remind / warn Mongolia that "the country will not be allowed to wreak havoc on the principles of private enterprise, democracy and Western interests." An excerpt from the UBPost article:
In the letter, Tim Lee notes that it is not too late to help Mongolia, an important US ally, get back on track. “Mongolia is holding a vital election at the end of this month that will help determine its future course. “Accordingly, now is a good time for the United States to be engaged on the ground in this important North Asian nation - bolstering our friends and defending the principles of freedom and democracy that will ensure a bright future for the people of Mongolia.One cannot help but notice the choice of words. If that doesn't sound like a slightly embellished wiseguy talk, I don't know what does. Equivalent of a Sopranos version of "Our old friend might benefit from a visit. Collect a kneecap or two for good measure." So we know who the CFIF don't support in the upcoming election. Though, what he means by "good time to be engaged on the ground with this nation" is up for interpretation in many different ways.
“Mongolia would benefit from a visit by an official U.S. diplomatic delegation, to remind the government that American taxpayer support will not continue if Mongolia flouts international norms and business practices.”
Both governments have chosen to ignore CFIF's pleas for the time being.
Read the full article on UBPost
According to news.mn, the chairmen of the two leading parties, S.Bayar of the MPRP, and Ts.Elbegdorj of the Democratic Party will go head-to-head in a live televised debate on Thursday night at 11pm. Thursday night at 11pm, the night before the election day. Strange timing. Perhaps they figured everyone will be up late at 11pm seeing as the Election Day is a public holiday (I don't know if it's appropriate to call it a holiday.) in Mongolia. [Correction: The election day is on Sunday, thanks to the commentor who pointed it out]
Who is going to stay up and watch this debate? Well, I would if I were there. That's just the kind of sucker I am. Would the perceived outcome of the debate play a deciding factor in who gets elected? Probably not. This is a Parliamentary election, not a Prime Ministerial election. What could an 11pm televized debate the night before the election day achieve remains to be seen. My gut tells me that many people will vote for the MPRP, simply because they want S.Bayar to continue what he started. They will vote for the MPRP in spite of the entire party. I am rather torn on this issue. If it were a presidential election, S.Bayar would probably win. However, this election, we may have a new PM come July.
MPRP is a large entity with too many internal fractions, with several powerful individuals leading their own little cliques. This does not inspire a lot of public confidence in the MPRP and the effectiveness of S.Bayar's future leadership. Many say that he does not have the majority support of his own party, having chosen a more solitary position amidst the chaotic party politics. He raised a few MPRP eyebrows with his proposal to have the President elected by the Parliament. It is safe to assume that he is no longer on the good side of President Enkhbayar, another individual with powerful ties within the MPRP political structure. MPRP's reputation as a party has been plummetting during the last few years. In fact, their reputation has been doing so much endless plummetting, I wonder if we exist in a bottomless political pit. We keep on straining our necks to hear that splash when it hits the bottom, but no. It somehow crawls back out like some Lovecraftian black oozy thing or that creepy little girl from Japanese horror movies. Crappy analogies aside, the MPRP does have strong support from the rural regions, which they have played on very well.
There is an interesting interview with S.Bayar, in which he enumerates on the achievements of his administration, as well as a few objectives he was not able to reach due to various circumstances. Excerpts will soon follow.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Psstt, lemme tell you a story or two.
You know why we have such a good relationship with N.Korea?
At the time when all the countries were pulling their embassies out of N.Korea, Mongolia was one of the few who stayed. Here's why: We didn't have the funds to mobilize our embassy. So we stayed. And N.Korea now claims Mongolia is one of their true friends who didn't abandon them during their trials. Hence our excellent relationship with N.Korea.
You know why we have such a good diplomatic relationship with Singapore?
In 1965, months after it was kicked out of Malaysia and became independent, Singapore wanted to become a UN member. Our rep to UN was asleep during the session. When the call for votes came, he woke up startled and in his sleepy confusion, became one of the very first to vote "Aye" to Singapore's membership. Singapore has been grateful to Mongolia ever since for our vocal recognition of their worth, giving our citizens the 14-day visa-free priviliege. The rumor has it that the Russians were mad at our rep for this, as they wanted to vote "Nay".
You know how Monaco and Mongolia established diplomatic ties?
During a boring UN session, reps from Monaco and Mongolia were seated next to each other due to the alphabetical seating order. Bored, they started up a chat. And thus, Monaco-Mongolia relationship started. (source: Mongolia Matters)
Thanks to Onon for the first 2 stories and the laughs. Just had to blog about these, whether apocryphal or true.
Chris Kaplonski's site has a section on the Mongolian Political Parties. Looks like the list of parties is somewhat outdated, as it mentions the Democratic Coalition. But his observations of Mongolian politics being a personality-driven political system is still relevant today.
Read Chris Kaplonski's article here
Thursday, June 19, 2008
"Khotiin Gudamj" (City Street) by a Mongolian jazz band Ocean 11 featuring the singer from the Lemons (the beardy dude with Perma-sunnies). Good stuff. Love the violin.
So I hear the MPRP (the not-so-Commie anymore party) and the DP (Democratic Party) are now promising money to citizens. Not just voters, but to everyone. The Democratic Party came up with the idea of "Wealth Sharing" or literally translated as "Share of the Wealth", which will see every adult citizen of Mongolia richer by Tg1million (approx US$ 870), if they are voted into power.
Meanwhile, MPRP, not to be outdone, promises to distribute Tg1.5million (approx. US$1,300.) to each adult citizen and Tg10,000 (approx US$9) to each child. Their PR team put together a fancy and, more importantly, different name for this project.. promise ..money-throwing ...thing, which is "Gifts of the Motherland". You could also translate it as "Blessings of the Motherland", which sounds all too Biblical and mystical in English, but does not in Mongolian. To make the translation of flowery Mongolian phrases simpler for me, I will just call them the Funds.
What neither of the parties seems very clear on in the media is how these Funds will be distributed. It is quite possible that they have not gotten around to the distribution method yet, focusing more on the amount. On a second thought, I do not think they even got around to how these Funds will be funded. Their proposal is to establish the funds from the proceeds of the mining industry and state mines such as Erdenet gold mines.
Many in the media as well as minor opposition parties consider these promises to be premature and unrealistic, considering the proposed changes to the Minerals Law have yet to be approved.
In yesterday's interview published on news.mn, Ts.Elbegdorj, Chairman of the Democratic Party, does not clarify much on the issue. He does mention that it would not be incorrect to assume that the government may give out the equivalent of Tg 1million in unspecified non-cash forms. Intriguing and mysterious.
This idea of setting up a national fund for "wealth-sharing" is not a new idea. Earlier this year, there were proposals by Lu.Bold, a member of the DP's National Advisory Committee, to set up a "Bayan Mongol" Mining Corporation (Wealthy Mongol), in which all Mongolian citizens will hold shares. The Corporation is to own and develop around 54 of the strategic mining assets in Mongolia. The article also mentioned that the Mongolian Government is projected make a profit of US$5.9 billion by 2021 from these projects (with or without the corporation).
If the DP comes into power, they will most likely lobby for the establishment of this corporation soon as the Minerals Law is passed.
This issue was also recently covered by Kazinform, a Kazakhstani news portal, though with some factual inaccuracies. My figures are the right figures. I rule.
Read the article here.
UPDATE: A friend, Onon, pointed out that the figures also do not calculate (if they were to give out cash). 2.6million people x US$1,300 = US$3.38billion. Our GDP is estimated at around US$6 billion, optimistically speaking. Surely the government can't give away more than half of our GDP in a gracious distribution of wealth. Even if it were 1million people, that still makes the figure US$1.3billion. With the projects expected to bring in US$ 5.9 billion by 2021, even if the government were to hand out shares to the possible "Bayan Mongol" corporation, the figures still do not calculate.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
According to a January 19, 2004 TimesOnline article titled "Russians who get as drunk as a warlord", a Russian scientist claims that the alcoholic gene was brought to the Russians by the Mongol conquerors.
As many as 50 per cent of Muscovites are estimated to have inherited Mongol genes that make them absorb more alcohol into the bloodstream and break it down at a slower rate than most Europeans, they say.The article also mentions that "Dr Nuzhny’s research is partly funded by pharmaceutical companies trying to develop drugs to cure hangovers and alcoholism." Made me laugh. Here I was, thinking that the Soviets brought alcoholism to Mongolia, when in fact, it seems we are the ones who screwed them over with our alcoholism-prone genes.
That means that they get more drunk and have worse hangovers, and are more likely to become addicted to alcohol, given Russia’s taste for vodka, its harsh climate and the social and economic chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“The way they get drunk is completely different. They are also more likely to feel aggressive or depressed,” Dr Nuzhny said. “They do not necessarily look Mongolian, but the gene that governs how they metabolise alcohol is Mongoloid.”
- Read the full TimesOnline article here
- More on this issue in the Russian newspaper "Pravda"
which claims that not just the Muscovites, but half of the entire Russian population inherited the Mongol genes.
Here's something interesting. Below is a list of our Prime Ministers democratically or otherwise elected into government since the first 1992 election and what befell them.
- P. Jasrai (late) [MPRP] 1992 - 1996
The former deputy PM under the Communist government, he was elected into office during the first election.
- M.Enkhsaikhan [DP] July,1996 - Apr,1998
First PM to never have been a member of the MPRP under the communist rule. Forced to resign by the DP and the Social Democrats due to slow reforms. Ran for Presidency in 2005 against the current president M.Enkhbayar and lost. No longer a member of the DP, he now heads the Democratic Justice Party and is running for election.
- Ts. Elbegdorj, 1st time [DP] Apr,1998 - Dec,1998
His first term was as the youngest PM of Mongolia at the age of 35. In his brief time as PM, he introduced legislations which gave greater freedom to the press. Forced to resign in Dec, 1998 by the Parliament, over banking regulations which resulted in a bank (I forget which, I think it was called the Development Bank of Asia (not the ADB, but a local Mongolian bank) declare bankruptcy. Current chairman of the DP.
- J.Narantsatsralt(late) [DP] Dec,1998 - July,1999
Then-mayor of Ulaanbaatar, nominated to PM seat and given the seal of approval by the President. Resigned as a result of a controversial letter to the deputy PM of Russia over the privatization of a Russian-Mongolian copper-molybdenum ore mine in Erdenet.
N.Tuyaa (acting) [DP] 22 July 1999 - 30 July 1999
- R. Amarjargal [DP] July, 1999 - July, 2000
Served as the Foreign Minister in Narantsatsralt's cabinet. Current MP.
- N.Enkhbayar [MPRP] 2000 - 2004
Current president of Mongolia since 2005. His government was criticized for its rampant corruption. Was also the key figure in a debt settlement to Russia of USD250 million. Allegations of corruption surrounding the deal abound.
- Ts.Elbegdorj, 2nd time [DP] Aug, 2004 - Jan, 2006
His government collapsed as a result of M.Enkhsaikhan (a former PM) defecting to the MPRP, giving them the required majority in the coalition to form a new government. M.Enkhsaikhan was voted out of the DP for his maneuvers. He would be given deputy PM under M.Enkhbold's short-lived MPRP government.
- M.Enkhbold [MPRP] Jan, 2006 - Nov, 2007
Removed from his position as the MPRP chairman, and as, by law, the chairman of the majority party holds the PM seat, resigned from his PM position. Is the deputy PM under S.Bayar's administration.
- S.Bayar [MPRP] 22 Nov, 2007 - present
Give the man a break now. Twice he was the PM, and both times he was forced to resign. I am all (ok, some) for Elbegdorj, and I hope the DP win this election and he finally gets to serve a full term as PM. Because, I for one, think he deserves a chance to implement the changes he had promised us twice and had not been given the time to carry out: the promise to target and eradicate the systemic corruption in government. That is, without undoing all that S.Bayar has accomplished in the last 7 months as the PM, such as the proposed changes to the minerals law and tighter control on national assets.
Because, as much as I think MPRP is a party rotten to its core with corruption and political back-stabbing, S.Bayar is one of the strongest leader figures we have seen in the past two decades. If he were the leader of any other political party, the Green Party of Mongolia for that matter, I would gladly campaign to elect him into office as would many other people (but then he'd never have become the PM and we would not know him). Unfortunately for S.Bayar's hopes for another term and perhaps for us too, he comes with much unwanted baggage.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
2 members of the ultra-nationalist groups, Dayar Mongol (Даяар Монгол) and Blue Mongol (Хөх Монгол), are running for seats in the Parliament. G.Byambatulga is running from Bayanzurkh District (22nd District) of Ulaanbaatar city and D.Gansuren from Chingeltei District (24th district) of Ulaanbaatar city.
Goomongol.mn held a brief interview with Mr.Gansuren (in Monglian) regarding their election campaigns. The ultra-nationalist candidates are blaming the lack of publicity and awareness of their campaigns on lack of funding and aggressive campaigning by their corruption-funded competitors. Their campaigns, under the slogan of "Mongolian Ownership of Mongolia" are funded by public donations and the personal savings of the group members. Dressed in all black except for the Swastika around their neck, their campaign poster requests public donation.
In the interview, Gansuren mentions that the groups "fight against illegal Chinese immigrants not only in the capital city, but also in the rural areas". I do not know what they mean by "fight against", but it sounds somewhat violent and ominous. They also send a warning to Mongolians working with foreigners against national interest, promising the "traitors will be dealt with harshly". Not someone you would invite for Sunday lunch with your folks, unless you're of the same lop-sided inclination.
I do not know if the Swastika is a suitable symbol for them. Given their message, it probably is. While the Swastika is not so much associated with Nazism as it is with the Buddhist symbol of auspiciousness in Mongolia, I doubt "auspiciousness" is in their political agenda. Not the sort of message we want to send to the western world, which has the alternative take on the Swastika.
The lack of public debate over rising Mongolian ultra-nationalism is something to worry about. After all, we all watched the ascent of Jorg Haider of Austrian Freedom Party with concern. More so because I always wanted to visit Austria. What's more, there seems to be some support for these folks. If they are elected, it will not be the first time a single issue of public concern has propelled an ill-suited candidate to public office. The major parties and powers-that-be may simply be ignoring the small fry, allowing them their voices, so long as they do not step on any toes by actually getting elected. Perhaps the aggressive campaigning from the major parties in these districts is an indication of their opinion of ultra-nationalism.
Judging from the comments on Goomongol.mn's article, my impression is that there is little support as the public are not aware of the candidacy. The situation might have been different if they had the funds to launch an aggressive campaign.
News.mn has an on-going opinion poll on their website, where viewers may submit their approval for election candidates. View results here. Gansuren of Blue Mongol has a low rating on the opinion polls, but considering the large percentage of voters with no internet access, I doubt this poll is much reflective of election results. Do they have a chance? In my opinion, not this election. Neither Blue Mongol group nor Dayar Mongol group is a registered political party, yet (there are 18 registered political parties in Mongolia). But registering a political party requires only 800 member signatures. With a more determined leadership, who knows how they will do in the next election. Or perhaps I am giving them more credit than they deserve.
One of John Barleycorn's (aka Ulaanbaanjo) blogs (the other being http://ulaanbaanjo.blogspot.com, chronicling his adventures in Mongolia with his Mongolian family and his banjo) is dedicated to the 9th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1875-89).His latest post on Chinggis Khaan and the movie Mongol is an interesting read, including his Mongolian wife's reactions to the movie Mongol and snippets from the 9th Encyclopedia Britannica article on Chinggis Khaan.
I enjoyed the film, although Mongolian members of the Barleycorn family were less impressed...Read more on his blog
Deep offense was caused in Mongolia when news of the central scene, and the director's invention, depicting the mighty Chinggis locked in a cage for the amusement of passers-by, reduced to catching a live bird and eating it raw. This provoked a similar reaction in my wife to the portrayal in Bill and Ted, of Chinggis as a small Chinese savage, with an uncontrollable lust for women and barbecued chicken.
It's a shame because it seems that the director was really doing his best to make a positive portrayal. It is a constant source of aggrievement that Chinggis is always portrayed by a foreigner, from John Wayne and Omar Sharif in Hollywood versions, to the young Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano in the present case..
Mongolian Music has an extensive video collection of traditional Mongolian music as well as some contemporary music.
This here is Kheerkhen Khaliun by Myagmarsuren.
Visit the blog for more videos and music
Monday, June 16, 2008
1. News of the weird: Chinggis Khaan Statue in Washington D.C.? The Mongolian Ambassador in Washington D.C. enquired with the D.C. Mayor as to the possibility. "Excuse me, Mr.Mayor, would you mind awfully if we erected a statue of our 800-year old dead king in your city? Conquered half the world, you see. It is not just a statue, sir, if you press the button at his feet, he squirts Chinggis Beer and discount tokens for Chinggis Khaan Hotel in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. It is only 50 minutes from the Chinggis Khaan airport, sir".
The embassy website goes on to note "this will make great contribution to deepening of mutual understanding between Mongolian and American people."
Read more on this issue in a Washington Post article.
2. On February 5, 2008, the Mongolian government signed an agreement with North Korea that it could bring as many as 5,300 North Korean laborers to Mongolia over the next five years. 5,300 workers over 5 years looks like nothing more than a symbolic gesture of friendship between one former commie and another resolute commie. Compared to the large number of Mongolian labourers (estimated at around 100,000) helping to build and develop its brother South Korea, 5,300 over 5 years is not convincing. Could be that the Mongolian government is too paranoid to bring in more workers. Currently around 150 North Korean labourers work in Mongolia.
3. Same article mentions a US State Department report that criticizes the Mongolian government of failing to curb human trafficking and failing to establish support systems for human trafficking victims. Another alarming revelation to me is the mention of an increasing traffic of "sex tourists" into Mongolia from S.Korea and other countries.
It seems to be the latest fad. To drive down to Mongolia from some city in Europe... in a piece-of-crap vehicle. And then drive around Mongolia in the same vehicle, or even better, ride a horse or cycle...
Ambulance to Mongolia team is driving a 30-year old ambulance down to Mongolia from the UK.
These people are driving to Mongolia from London with no preparation and vehicles guaranteed to break down in the middle of a Central Asian desert.
All are charitable events. I suppose it does create awareness of Mongolia for people who'd otherwise never known or heard about the country. Many are raising funds to charities in Mongolia.
I remember this incident. In a 1989 Playboy interview, Garry Kasparov, the Soviet chess champion, commented that USSR should sell Mongolia off to China. Given his political savvy, one wonders the wisdom of him running for the Russian presidency. Of course, one might forgive him for his unwise comments, he was only 25 and it was an interview with "Playboy"... which.. I mean, it's Playboy. Of course, the Mongolians didn't forgive him. Letters of petition and complaint were sent to the Soviet embassy. Apologies followed, by Soviet diplomats. Kasparov remained quiet. NY Times ran an article on Mongolia in 1990, where they also mention Kasparov's diplomatic blunder, while noting our peaceful transition to democracy as compared to the rest of the Communist world.
Below is an excerpt from "Truth, History and Politics in Mongolia: The Memory of Heroes" by Christopher Kaplonski, which I found on Google Book Search.
"The increasingly vocal discontentment with the government and Soviet influence boiled over in late December. Gary Kasparov, the chess champion, commented in a Playboy interview that the Soviet Union would solve some of its economic troubles by selling off Mongolia to China. Mongols, not unexpectedly, were outraged at this. According to articles at Unen, petition and letters signed by "many thousands" of Mongols were sent to the Soviet Embassy and the four consular offices (Unen 1990a). At multiple press conferences, a spokesman for the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed regret at the statement and reiterated that this was not official Soviet policy."
Read more from this book on Google Book Search
Friday, June 13, 2008
B.Batbayar, known as Baabar in Mongolia, is an influential politician and prolific writer. He had served as a Member of Parliament at the State Ikh Khural and has since retired from active political life. He remains active as a political analyst and commentator. I came across an interview with Baabar by Zuunii Shuudan(in Mongolian) yesterday, and translated the interview to English.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
Q:- What are your predictions for the election?
A:- I don't think the 1992, 2000 election results will ever repeat, where 90% of all the seats in Parliament were dominated by one party. There are many reasons for this. I believe Mongolians are learning the ropes of democratic elections. In 1992, we had the Gold Dealer crimes, and in 2000, Zorig's murder, and both were blamed on the transition to democracy and the Democrats, which caused the landslide victories (for the MPRP).
Q:- Who do you think will win this election?
A:- The two major parties combined will probably win no less than 90% of all votes. However, it is likely that neither of these parties will get the minimum required votes to form a government. This is quite possible. Lately, the analysis shows an increasing likelihood of a Democrat victory. Again, I don't think they will get significantly more seats than their opposition. It may be too early to tell. But these are the indications at the moment.
Q:- 12 political parties are running in this year's election. In your opinion, do they not have a significant chance? Everyone (apart from the two major parties) seems to consider their party as the third party.
A:- I think Irgenii Zorig Nam (Civil Will Party, led by S.Oyun, current Foreign Minister) will definitely secure 2 seats . But 2 seats are not enough for them to be considered the third party in government. By Constitution, they need at least 10% or 7-8 seats in parliament to have any significant influence on policy-making. Judging from opinion polls, public confidence in these political parties is not even 10%. But because our electoral system is a plurality voting system (First-past the post, sort of a "winner-takes-all" system) and not a proportional representation system, it is possible for the minor parties to win 6-7 seats. But as the Mongolian saying goes, a single log does not a fire make; the public has little confidence in the smaller parties.
Read the rest of the interview here
Further to my post "Mongolia : The Greatest Conspiracy of Cartographers?", I now announce that the confusion over Mongolia's geographical location has reached a new low for me. I am at a point where I am seriously contemplating on carrying around a world map with me. Or have a T-shirt made with a print of the map of Asia. Or invent a way to zap geography knowledge into their brains instantly with the use of a Tazor.
So here's the source of my astonishment and exasperation: A Singaporean told me she thought Mongolia was a part of Tibet before she met me. Part of Tibet? Nothing is a part of Tibet. Even Tibet is no longer a part of Tibet! Of course, I do not think she is representative of the general geography knowledge here in Singapore. Well, I hope not. On a second thought, who knows. Sure, a lot of people can't point out Mongolia on a map, confusedly poring over the South Asia section in futile search. But given the press coverage Tibet has received over the years, one would think...
It almost made my ears bleed... There should be a word for that feeling of extreme helplessness where you don't know whether to cry or laugh or scream in horror or do all at the same time while crazy-dancing naked and drunken in the middle of the street. I should refer to the Meaning of Liff, perhaps the ingenious Douglas Adams had already invented a suitable word.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I was mildly amused and somewhat disappointed with Sergey Bodrov's "the Mongol". Was. Now I hate this movie. Not just because of the liberties it takes with Mongolian history, but because it perpetuates misinformation about the Mongols and create couch-historians who overnight become experts on the history of Chinggis Khaan according to the Gospel of Bodrov.
What irks me is the reception to the portrayal of Chinggis Khaan's faith. All of a sudden, people are writing we Mongols worship Tengri the Mongolian Thunder God, or Tengri the Sky God or Tengri the God of the Blue Sky. The main problem lies not so much with the portrayal but its interpretation. The word "god" is so deeply associated with Christianity and other monotheistic religions and their visions of a personal God, that when Tengri the God of the Blue Sky is mentioned, people automatically think of a dude sitting atop a flock of clouds, wielding his Thor-axe (hee), regulating weather and wars.
Tengri literally means sky in old Mongolian. Nowadays it's written and pronounced something like "Ten-ger". Тэнгэр is how it's written in cyrillic. In animism, there is no personification of a natural force, the force itself is god. So the sky is god, there is no god of the sky. Same goes for all other forces and expressions of nature. Mongolians ask a Mountain's forgiveness before doing anything that will damage the earth on the mountain. I found a wiki article here.
Unfortunately, what will happen as a result of this movie is a proliferation of amateur historians who will perpetuate the notion that Mongolians worship some Thor-like personal God, who also manifests himself as a wolf at whim. Too much is sacrificed for dramatic effects and visuals, too little is done to explain.
It is only a movie after all, but this day and age, people rely on the mass media for education and information. History is learnt from movies. How many people knew about Oskar Schindler before they made a movie about him? Mostly historians and those he had rescued. I can safely say that many youngsters nowadays would never have known about the Titanic before they made a movie about it. Come to think of it, most probably still think Titanic is just a movie and would be surprised to find out that the backdrop of the movie is historical. I have met people who believed that "300" was a historical movie. I asked them "Have you noticed the goat-headed chimera playing some sort of a sitar in Xerxes' tent at some point in the movie? How about the demon-faced ninja Immortals?". Of course that is only one of the many mythical elements to that movie. I am sure many Greek historians were outraged. As a Frank Miller fan, I loved "300" and the movie's cinematography, which to me was no more than a comic book come to screen, and not a historical depiction of Sparta and what happened at the Battle of Thermopylae.
I suppose the problem is, history is never as glamorous and heroic enough to be depicted undistorted. Too many character flaws in the heroes, too gruesome and violent, too political in that not-so-intriguing sort of way, boring clothes, incomprehensible language...
Speaking of language, I thought what Mel Gibson did with "The passion of the Christ" was an original idea, to have people speak Aramaic and Latin. Until I saw the movie. That movie was so unnecessary. 2 hours of torture? What are we, sadists? Even horror movies take breaks between the violence. Same with the Mongolian spoken in "The Mongol". I mean, Mongolians are not extinct yet, and we still speak Mongolian. We have actors. Instead, we have a Japanese actor praying to a wolven God of Thunder in broken Mongolian, while Chinggis' best friend Jamukha, portrayed by a Chinese actor (the irony, I wonder if they will get another Chinese actor to play Chinggis' general in a movie depicting Mongols' conquest of China) swaggers and spits out incomprehensible Mongolian. Hey, whatever sells, I guess.
To be honest, if I were a director about to make an epic movie about Chinggis Khaan, I'd probably get someone famous too. Perhaps Mel Gibson as Chinggis Khaan. With enough makeup he may yet end up looking as asian as Steven Seagal but still retain that box-office Mel Gibson-y quality.There were rumors that Steven Seagal planned to make a movie about Chinggis Khaan... with himself as Chinggis! This is true. He even visited Mongolia, where he was treated like a royalty by starstruck government officials. Mongolian journalists, I remember, were outraged that he would come to a government reception at the Parliament wearing a pair of jeans.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Hem.mn has a large collection of streaming / downloadable Mongolian music. I was quite excited to find some oldies from the 60's and 70's. The Frank Sinatra's and Edith Piaf's of Mongolia.
There's also the new Nisvanis as well. Unfortunately, HEM.mn doesn't have a post-to-blog player and I can't be bothered to go and learn how to upload music to blogger.
Many non-elected government officials resigned from their posts in order to run for election. The general public sentiment seems to be that of indifference, with public opinion of political parties at an all-time low. Some have even expressed desires to return to a single-party system. As my father remarked, the public has a short memory. It has not been 20 years since we had left the single-party socialist / communist system. As little as their faith is in the political parties running for government, the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party or the former Communist party is probably the least popular. Most expect the Democrats to win in this election by a landslide. People may have short memories, but it has not been too long since the MPRP's manouvers led to the collapse of the Coalition government in January 2006.
The current President N.Enkhbayar, a former MPRP member and leader, is without a doubt the least popular president Mongolia has had, while the MPRP Prime Minister S.Bayar has a reputation of being a Russian in a Mongolian skin. Bayar has expressed open admiration of Putin and is rumoured to have close ties with Putin administration and Russian oligarchs. One cannot help but notice the increasing Russian business interests and influences in Mongolia since Bayar took office.
An article of note:
- Russia, Mongolia to jointly extract uranium in Bayar (sic, I think they meant "in Mongolia")
What will happen to these new developments if (or perhaps when) S.Bayar loses his seat as the PM in June remains to be seen. It's hard to deny that S.Bayar has accomplished more in 7 months as a PM than some of his predecessors did in 2 years. And it's too early to say what the long-term implications of his many decisions will be. I, for one, support his proposed revisions to the minerals law, while I am not entirely sure about his plans for building nuclear power plants. I am worried about the long-term implications on the environment and high level radioactive waste that require careful handling.
We former Commies do not have a very good track record as far nuclear waste is concerned or anything nuclear is concerned. Chernobyl and Murmansk come to mind.
In other news, the parliament is pushing for 51% of Oyu Tolgoi, leaving 49% to Rio Tinto and Ivanhoe mines. The revisions to the mineral laws have not yet been approved, as the Parliament ended its session before the election. A change in government is unlikely to affect the decision regarding strategic national assets like Oyu Tolgoi, potentially the most lucrative copper deposit in the world.
Monday, June 9, 2008
So here we are, it's election day soon on June 29. Again. It's when our politicians awaken from their 4-year beauty nap, all rested and full of energy and dive right into campaigning. Exciting times. One almost feels angry or cheated, the way you would when a friend who you thought was dead for all these years, turns up on your doorstep grinning from ear to ear asking for a couple of bucks.
I have never had the pleasure of voting, mainly because I happened to be overseas during each election. But I was there during campaign periods, both parliamentary and presidential. Almost every day, the campaign staff would come a-knocking. Mostly kids and old ladies, distributing flyers, little gifts like prepaid mobile credit or a desktop calendar. The flyers, far less than a political flyer detailing the candidate's agenda, would enthusiastically slander the particular candidates' competitors. Many of these flyers would question the ethnicity of some of the candidates: "His grandmother was Chinese. Do you really want this man to lead our country?". Come election, having any sort of foreign blood in you is a disadvantage.
I must say though, there are MP's in the government of mixed heritage. S.Oyun, MP and Mongolia's Foreign Minister, is half-Russian and half-Mongolian, as was her late brother S.Zorig, who was also an MP, a potential Prime Minister and one of the O.G.'s of the democratic revolution. (S.Zorig was brutally murdered, or assassinated some say, at his home a few years back. His murderers were never caught. His sister S.Oyun entered politics after her brother's death. Read more about S.Zorig and the Zorig Foundatoin here.) S.Oyun has been a source of inspiration to many young women around the country, and still remains one of the most popular politicians in Mongolia amongst the students and the progressive.
Running for a seat in the Ikh Hural is, in my opinion, a painful task. Be prepared to get slandered, defamed, your family history and your own history questioned, your financial history dug up and scrutinized. You may find yourself connected to organized crime figures come election campaigns. Or find a new branch in your extended family tree you never knew of.
The slander campaign takes the focus off the issues at hand. And for a good reason too. The general public no longer trusts issue-related promises by MP's during election campaigns. The public is interested in finding the candidate that will do the least damage to the country while in office. Therefore they make their decisions based on the politicians' track record. Can't blame them. The question that I have had on my mind since the last 2 elections is: Are we crazy? After all is not insanity defined as doing the same thing and expecting different results each time. We have been electing the same 2 groups of people into office election after election, swinging back and forth between them like a some doomed pendulum, hoping for some improvement. That is not to say that there was no progress. There have been progress on many fronts. But little progress in how the government is run and little progress on anti-corruption measures.
More to come on Election'2008 of Mongolia.
(Image Source: Wikipedia)
Some facts about the Mongolian Parliamentary Election or Ikh Huraliin Songuuli or Их Хуралын Сонгууль:
- 12 parties running in the 2008 election for 76 seats
- 26 constituencies
- 2008 Election is the 5th general election since 1992
- 62 of the 76 current MP's are running for reelection
Source: Mongolia Web News
Saturday, June 7, 2008
I found this site while I was searching through news and blogs on Mongolia, and found it interesting. Especially as their houses are constructed to provide insulation against the harsh winters of Mongolia where temperatures can drop down to -40 or 45 Celsius. Habitat for Humanity, a US-based international organization, constructs inexpensive housing that are sold at cost price to poor families (along with monthly instalment payment option). Something like US$20-30 per month. The builders are people on "a holiday with a difference".
From their website:
HFH Mongolia was set up in 1999 to address the need for decent and affordable housing. It has affiliates operating in Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan and Edernet, and two program centers in Tsetserleg and Arvaikheer. Starting in July 2007, five new program centers are being set up in, Bagakhangai, Baganuur, Khakhorin (sic), Nalaikh and Zuunmod.Now almost all of the above areas, except for Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan and Erdenet, are in the rural areas. Darkhan and Erdenet are small cities, or very small by the standards of any other country. If a family can afford US$2000+ per house in instalments, they can more than afford to buy a few gers (or Mongolian yurts). Considering that these areas are isolated town centres, central heating and water as well as sanitation are non-existent. Toilets are built separately, and water still needs to be bought from the town centre water dispenser and carried over to their houses. Granted, a house is still better than a ger as far as personal space, privacy and household organization are concerned. The Ger is a nomad's practical invention, built for mobility and compactness. But would one, being able to afford a ger, pay ten times more for a house? Not a criticism of any sort, simply a question to ponder as I notice the irony of the situation.
A typical Habitat home measures up to 36 sq. m. in size and is constructed with bricks or concrete blocks, wood, concrete roof sheeting and Styrofoam for insulation against the harsh winter. Toilets are built separately.
For more info, visit their website
And here's the ironic part:
There are many websites retailing Mongolian gers as environmentally-friendly housing in Europe, Australia and other developed countries! Some are even retailing them as "luxury yurts". If you don't believe me, go here.
I may be overreacting, empty-stomached and somewhat dizzy from the antihistamines. That is, after all, how the world operates, as my Indian housemate non-chalantly remarked as I told him this story.
Friday, June 6, 2008
The Mongolian Society for Developmentally Challenged (literal translation, somewhat weird though) organized a demonstration at UB city square against the new government legislation on public transport fares. The pensioners and the handicapped (I don't know if disabled is a better word. I once saw a bus ad in Singapore which referred to the disabled as "these-abled people", which made me want to weep at the stupidity and futility of the human race and the times in which we live in, especially when I thought of the graphic artist who had to sit there and design the poster all the while wanting to tear his eyes out. Coz if I ever get disabled due to an accident probably of my own making, I would prefer the un-PC "gimp" to "this-abled" person. I mean, this is so wrong that it can't even be called patronizing.) must now pay the full fare for public transport.
The demonstrators, most of them visually impaired, crawled on their knees to the city hall which is located to the left of the UB city square, and demanded that the mayor acknowledge their official protest. Mayor's representative met with the protesters and received their letter. The protesters then made their way, on their knees, to the Parliament House, located about 100 meters from the City Hall. Upon being stopped by the guards, they proceeded to lie on the pavement and the roads(!). A dangerous and daring feat, considering the traffic situation in Mongolia nowadays. Eventually a government official was sent down to take their official letters of protest. The protesters continued their prone protest on the roads, blocking traffic for some time after this.
I have never seen a demonstration of this sort in Mongolia, except for the 1990 hunger strike by the Democrats. And also there was the Mongolian People's Movement (or something to that effect, very Monty Pythonesque), who, as an act of protest, built a Mongolian ger / yurt, on one of the city squares and declared a hunger strike. Unceremoniously ignored by the government, they then proceeded to live on the city square for the next 2 years (rent-free!). The way they had parked their ger on a city square, they would have been mistaken for a nomadic family with little regard for the modern world except for their little banner, which simply read "Mongolian People's Movement" or something to that effect. As far as I can remember, their demand, during the 2-3 day hunger strike they declared until they got too hungry, was that the government resign. There was little else by way of offering an alternative, or a solution. I suppose this is why they were ignored by the government as well as the general public. Nevertheless, the government ignored them for 2 long years, allowing them a comfortable living space in a prime real estate area.
I suppose that is something I might do. Having built up so much hype, you can't just wrap up and leave. You have to stick around for a couple of years, until people forget why you are there in the first place. Then you can quietly dismantle your little tent and disappear into the dark cold night before anyone reminds people of your shame and utterly ridiculous and agendaless political movement.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Their leader, B.Enkhbat, is currently on trial for the suspected murder / manslaughter of his daughter's boyfriend, a student in Inner Mongolia, China whose patriotism was questioned by Enkhbat.
To say that most Mongolians' feelings towards China borders on racism and hatred would not be an overstatement. And I believe that the Chinese do not help mend the fence any better by claiming that Inner Mongolians are happy being a part of China and that Mongolia should come join the party, in both senses of the word. I do not believe there is a solution to this problem. I do not see how the Chinese government in the foreseeable future will allow free and objective press coverage of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia regions. I do not see the Chinese government changing its education curriculum to include accurate and truthful history lessons instead of the propaganda fed to most Chinese today. And as long as the Chinese government continues to encourage Chinese supremist attitude towards Mongolia AND China's Inner Mongolia region, the fear of and hatred towards the Chinese will continue to flourish in Mongolia.
One user commented on the Far Eastern Economic Review's article:
the life of the people living in the Inner M is getting better and more better than that of the people living in M. they also love China and they call themselves CHINESE!I believe they call themselves Chinese because they ARE Chinese. 80% of Inner Mongolia is Han Chinese thanks to Mao's social engineering. You know the world's tallest man in the world from Inner Mongolia? Hardly Mongolian, the dude has a Chinese name. Granted, most Inner Mongolians are forced to adopt a Chinese name since Mongolian names are too difficult for most other people to pronounce, and Inner Mongolians must defer to the Han Chinese in their region.
Many Inner Mongolians are adopting Mandarin as a first language, while many on the other hand are coming to Mongolia to learn the modern Mongolian accent. There is a cunning commercial reason behind this. Many Inner Mongolian mass media students are sent by the Chinese administrators to Mongolia to improve their Mongolian. Upon their return to China, they become newscasters in TV stations, which sell programming (now comprehensible to the Mongolians thanks to their newly-trained staff) to cable TV networks in Mongolia.
All the animosity and "Blue Mongol" aside, China is Mongolia's biggest trading partner and Mongolia's economic growth owes much to China's booming economy. As much as I hate to say it, but the economic and social invasion of Mongolia by the Chinese is inevitable if Mongolia remains on its current economic course. Can Mongolia protect itself without restricting its economic ties with China?
I have been following the Oyu Tolgoi situation quite closely in the news. Here's a snippet which will give you some idea on what has been happening:
Ivanhoe has been negotiating with the Mongolian government to reach a formal agreement on how to develop Oyu Tolgoi since 2003, and those discussions recently sparked protests in the capital, Ulan Bator, by critics who want more mineral-generated wealth to stay in the country. The protests apparently worked: on May 12, the Mongolian parliament approved a surprise windfall-profits tax on foreign miners. The move helped to send Ivanhoe stock into a tailspin; it fell nearly 22% in one day of trading. (ref:canadabusiness.com)Sums up the situation neatly. The recent developments have been the Mongolian government's decision to own majority stake in all strategic assets on Mongolian soil, which in my opinion is mostly, if not solely, directed at Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. Considering that the copper deposits in Mongolia are possibly the largest untapped copper resource in the world, perhaps it is understandable.
However, the author of the article on canadabusiness.com goes on to say:
His Ivanhoe Mines Ltd., for example, operates in Mongolia, Myanmar and Kazakhstan--countries where, to varying degrees, governments can be oppressive and unstable, civil unrest can break out without warning, contracts can be abandoned with impunity, corruption may run rampant, or all of the above.For the record, Mongolia does not have an oppressive government. Quite the opposite, the government is a little pre-occupied with the windfalls of an open economy to really bother with oppression. We've tried that during communism and have lost our taste for it. As for civil unrest, we are known, amongst the small audience who bother to read about Mongolia, for our peaceful transition to a democratic system. Peaceful, as in non-violent, but not necessarily smooth economically.
Frankly, I am indignant at Mongolia being bundled with Myanmar so carelessly and with impunity. We have not had a genocide since the communist 1930's, but then again, which country worth its mulla can safely say they had no genocide or cultural atrocities in the 20th century? We are a parliamentary democracy, albeit a dysfunctional form of it. In Myanmar, the military shoot at civilians! In Mongolia, we are never really sure if we elected a government or if it was just a conspiracy of the newscasters. Occasionally we see parliamentary sessions on television, where our MP's sit around uncertainly as if put there for the TV cameras without a script.
Our military is non-existent, though we do manage to scrape together a few dozen soldiers to deploy to Iraq so as to keep up appearances with our new best-friend, the USA.
But I digress.
The Mongolian government is expected to demand a 50% equity stake in Oyu Tolgoi, significantly higher than the previously proposed (by Rio Tinto & Ivanhoe) 34%.
This below will give you some idea on the enormity of Oyu Tolgoi:
Oyu Tolgoi is owned by Canada's Ivanhoe. Rio Tinto Group, the world's third-largest mining company, agreed in 2006 to buy 10 percent of the company and may raise its stake by converting a credit line provided to develop the mine. The project is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Mongolia's border with China...As for the controversies involving Ivanhoe Mining Ltd and the Myanmar junta, there are many news articles which may interest the reader here, here and here.
...The deposit's current estimated metal content is ``a tiny fraction of what is actually there,'' Friedland said. In March, Ivanhoe raised the estimated resource to 78.9 billion pounds of measured, indicated and inferred copper and 45.2 million ounces of gold.
Monday, June 2, 2008
Thought I'd just briefly list down some news of interest:
1. City government has unveiled plans for the construction of 4,000 apartments in Ulaanbaatar's western District No.1. I wonder what they mean by 4,000 apartments. 4,000 apartment buildings or just 4,000 apartments? My guess is for the latter. I wonder how the city hall will handle the sale of these new pigeonholes. Given the rising costs of accommodation in Mongolia, I wouldn't be surprised if these went for USD50,000 above per 3-bedroomer. the City may give these out as "public" housing at subsidized rates. And those lucky or connected enough to get their hands on a unit or two, will sell them on for USD50,000 and above. District 1? A little too far from the centre for my carless self.
2. Ulaanbaatar will be smoke-free: If the government spends MNG100 billion (US 90Million)
MP Otgonbayar presents an ingenius proposal to rid the city of Ulaanbaatar of its perpetual state of haze: by buying each of the Ger district households electric heaters to replace their coal ovens. At a cost of USD400 per heater, perhaps more than 2 months wages for some of these households, one wonders how many households will opt to sell these heaters for a quick income and return to their usual method of burning coal, wood and waste materials for heat and energy.
Mike Krause of regimewatch.com has written a piece in Denver Post on the other ethnic groups and captive nations under the Chinese regime. The two groups mentioned, deservedly so, are the Uighurs (Uyghurs) of East Turkistan and the Mongols of Inner Mongolia. The oppression of Uighurs and Mongolians in China continues with little or no press attention from the west.
Speaking off the record, one American expert described China's policy as "The only good Uigher is a dead Uigher." Testifying before the U.S. House Committee on International Relations in 2001, Yemlibike Fatkulin, a Uigher asylum seeker, described Beijing's population control tactics against ethnic Uighers including forced abortions, forced sterilization and heavy fines for "unauthorized" children...
During Mao Zedong's genocidal "Cultural Revolution" in the 1960s and early 1970s, many thousands of Mongolians of Inner Mongolia were tortured, maimed and killed in a vicious campaign by Chinese communists against an alleged Inner Mongolia independence movement.
Today the Inner Mongolia People's Party (so named in remembrance of the slaughter of the Cultural Revolution) actually exists as an organization of Mongolian expatriates based in New Jersey. Well outside the reach of Beijing, the affirm their goal of "establishing an independent state of Inner Mongolia."