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Getting their Fair Share: Representation and Civic Activity of Herders in Mongolian Democracy

ByMichael Harrison

Submitted to Department of Politics,New York University

In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts

Project Sponsor: Professor James C. Hsiung

Signature: __________________________

MA Project Committee:Professor __________________________Professor __________________________

New York City, USA2014

EXECUTIVE SUMMARYMy intention has been to gauge effectiveness of Mongolia as a democracy, specifically with regard to the nations herders, nomadic and otherwise. I want to see how well they, or people with their interests in mind, are represented in the government, as well as the degree to which herders are trying to assert themselves to the government. Their voice is especially important because there are certain problems in Mongolia, particularly environmental problems, that the herders notice most easily and feel most acutely. There a several means by which I have sought to answer this question. I have examined the structure of the government, formal measurements of Mongolias level of democracy, parties in government, their ideologies, and certain individuals in government known to have the interests of herders in mind. Next I looked at voter turnout rates and indicators of Mongolias level of civil society, particularly among the pastoral population. Finally I examined the level of activism by herders in the form of protests, involvement in NGOs, internet activism, and violence (which I consider an indication of democracy failing). I conclude that Mongolia is a success in all these regards except internet activism and civil society, although herders are tightly linked to informal networks of family, neighbors, etc. which are of less political value.

LIST OF DATA TABLESTable 1.1: Investment in Mongolia by country.45Total Investment in Mongolia by Corporate Entity.46Total Livestock in Mongolia...47Associational Membership in Mongolia48


Baabar: Bat-Erdene Batbayar, an activist, writer and former-parliamentarianDP: Democratic PartyMPRP: Mongolian Peoples Revolutionary PartySDC: Swiss Agency for Development and CooperationPUG: Pasture Use Group


Aimag: A province.Aimag Khural: A provincial-level assembly.Ayil: An encampment of multiple yurts.Bagh: The level of jurisdiction smaller than a sum.Gal Undesten: Fire Nation, a Mongolian NGO.Ger: See yurt.Ghur: See yurt.Khural (Great State Khural): The national parliament.Neg nutgiinhan: A social network consisting of people from the same hometown or region.Sukhbaatar Square: A public space in front of the Khural.Sum: The sub-provincial level of jurisdiction (between the bagh and aimag in size).Yurt: A tent, which can easily be assembled and dissembled, that herders typically live in.Zud: A loss of livestock throughout the country due to severe cold or other weather conditions.



INTRODUCTIONHaving begun its transition from communism to a free-market economy in the early 1990s, meanwhile establishing a democratic apparatus in 1992, Mongolia is now one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Yet, although the general standard of living is improving, Mongolias economic takeoff has been accompanied by a variety of new and old problems, many of which could have severe consequences. Every segment of society is affected differently. I will focus on the herders, who comprise approximately 30 percent of Mongolias population. Mongolias economic growth is based primarily on mining, which causes profound environmental problems. Grazing is also causing environmental problems, and the future of Mongolia might depend on the nations herders finding another livelihood. Either way, because they see everything in the countryside and live off of its resources, herders can see environmental problems that sedentary people are less likely to notice. Fortunately, along with the transition to free-market economy, Mongolia also transitioned from a one-party communist state to a democracy. In this paper I intend to determine how much, and how well, they are using the democratic system to their advantage. Herders are using the government to their advantage. Mongolia has one of the highest voter-turnout rates in the world (even though it is rapidly declining). It is not common for herders to be elected to office at the national level (where all policy is made, since Mongolias system is not federalist). However, there are many people in government, whom I have taken to calling proxies of the pastoral population, who are keenly aware of the plight of this group. Herders are not active in civil society, at least not in the sense of modern associations that are a staple of politics in fully-democratic Western countries. Herders do engage in activism, both on their own initiative and in organizations organized by city people, or more likely, concerned people in other countries. Meanwhile, eruptions of political violence have been very rare and on a very small scale in the post-communist era, a sign of the effectiveness of the democratic system.

Research QuestionFortunately, for those on the losing side of economic development, Mongolias government has become a stable, functional democracy in which concerns can be addressed that would have been ignored otherwise. The communist regime tried out many constitutions, but since 1992 Mongolia has maintained the one established in that year during its democratization process. This Constitution establishes a system with a mix of parliamentary and presidential modes of democracy. It is described in detail in the CIA World Factbook. Members of the Khural (the national parliament) are elected in a system of proportional representation. There are 76 seats in Khural, of which 48 are directly elected from 26 electoral districts, the remaining 28 parliamentarians being proportionally elected based on a party's share of the total votes. Currently the Khural is split between six parties. Parliamentarians are elected for a renewable four-year term which could be cut short if parliament is dissolved. The prime minister, in consultation with the rest of the Khural, appoints members of the executive with the exception of the President, who is elected separately by popular vote. There is also a separate judicial branch, including a Supreme Court, the appointment of justices to which is split between the President, the Khural and the Supreme Court. Democracy also exists at the local level. The country is divided into 22 provinces, and one city, which are in turn divided into 329 districts. The system is not federalist, so these sub-national governments do not have power to make laws. Most districts have approximately 5,000 people, mostly nomadic herders. The districts are then divided into baghs. The main purpose of baghs is to keep track of people, who in the case of most baghs are mostly nomadic herders (Montsame News Agency, 2006). To herders, the local government is a more accessible alternative to the national government. Mongolia is still an up-and-coming democracy, and powerful interest groups have a high proportion of influence at the expense of ordinary citizens. In this paper I inquire into the extent to which herders, and people standing up for their interests (whom I am calling their proxies), are represented in the government and how much effort they are making to influence national and local policy. Common sense would suggest that herders have less influence than those in towns and cities. This question of herders level of influence can be examined from a number of perspectives. I would like to determine, first of all, the degree to which herders are taking advantage of the democratic system to serve their long-term interest of themselves and their progeny. Second, it is important to consider the proxies those who are concerned about herders, and about what they have to say, when it is not plainly in their own self-interest. In the government there are a certain number of people in this category. They come from urban families, however they act as proponents for the herders, both for their well-being and for their unique insight which can benefit the rest of the population.

The ProblemThe transition to a free-market economy has brought profound improvements in the lives of people in all segments of Mongolian society. However, it has also caused a variety of problems, some of which can have dire consequences. Problems range from environmental problems caused by overgrazing[footnoteRef:1] to environmental problems associated with mining and other modern industries, to demographic imbalances resulting from large-scale emigration and a plummeting fertility rate[footnoteRef:2]. The future of herding in Mongolia is, itself, threatened. It might be that all the herders remaining in Mongolia will need to find another source of income, either in the towns/city or in the countryside in an industry such as tourism with a lighter impact on the environment (Havstad, et al). Therefore, given a fair assessment of the situation, although herders are politically disadvantaged, they are also a cause of some of the nations problems, and a political victory for them might not mean victory for the rest of the population. In fact, victory for them might mean disaster for their children. The fact that the representation and influence of herders might be to their detriment is one shortcoming of my research question. [1: Overgrazing is, by a strange twist of fate, a result of the transition to a market economy. I explain why in the Literature Review.] [2: I will not discuss problems relating to the demographic imbalance.]

A number of other changes resultin