Communists Take Control in Mongolia

BySue Masterman

July 4, 2000 -- As America celebrates democracy, Mongolians are fed up with it — just four years after their first taste of freedom.

The nation’s bitter four-year experiment ended this weekend, when voters gave the nation’s communists a sweeping mandate in the Great Hural, or parliament.

With voter turnout at an enviable 90 percent, the communists look set to take 96 percent of the 76 seats in parliament.

While this may appear to be a huge step backwards, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party’s has a new face.

And if it looks a lot like Tony Blair, that’s because Mongolian communist leader Nambariin Enkhbayar has patterned both his campaign and policies after those of the British prime minister.

The New Face of Communism

Enkhbayar, 42, is fluent in English, and studied English literature at Leeds University in England. He has promised that there will be no return to hard-line communist policies.

“We cannot afford to go back,” he told The Associated Press. “We cannot survive if we go back.”

Enkhbayar appears to want to slow down the pace of privatization, but not reverse it.

“Maybe we are realizing that this type of privatization does not automatically bring a better quality of life, so we have to do it in a more clever way,” he said.

He has also sworn to fight rampant corruption.

Poor Nation

A third of Mongolians live below the poverty level, while a few have become very rich. Average per capita income is at about $400.

Enkhbayar wants to renegotiate terms with the International Monetary Fund to decrease the country’s massive debt and curb the inflation of the national currency, the togrog.

Human Rights activists will be keeping a close eye on his tactics. They fear that Mongolia may lose some of its hard-won press and religious freedoms.

But Enkhbayar insists that his communists are a different breed.

“These are not some monsters that have come to power but people who speak the same language,” he said. “We just want to live in a civilized, developed and democratic society.”

Meanwhile, champagne corks popped at party headquarters in Ulan Bator as the new leader made good on his promise to open up a bottle for every seat his party won — a huge 73.

World’s Strangest Election

The election was like no other in the world. In the middle of the Gobi Desert, election officials galloped on horseback from ger to ger — the traditional felt tents where the country’s quarter million nomads live — with wooden ballot boxes.

They were greeted by extended families dressed in their traditional “del” robes, multi-colored silk robes tied with a sash, and knee-length boots with curled-up toes.

At each ger, the election officials had to accept a shot of fermented mare’s milk, a traditional greeting.

Other nomads traveled 60 miles or more to vote, crossing a parched desert hit hard by a drought that has so far killed 2.2 million of the nation’s 32 million head of livestock this year.

The massive pro-communist vote follows four turbulent years which saw four prime ministers, the assassination of a prominent politician and the arrest and imprisonment of three others for corruption.

Mongolia has struggled to come to terms with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, of which it was a quiet part. It finally threw out the communists, who had ruled for 75 years — and appears to have regretted it ever since.

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