Friday, June 10, 2005

Mongolia: An Experiment in Democracy

Given what I've read around the web, there's a sneaking opinion in many quarters that Mongolia is a country that is breathlessly waiting to revert to closed markets, accordion wire, and good old-fashioned communism. There’s an equally strong view that Mongolia is ripe for democratic revolution, the next domino to fall in the wave of freedom that is sweeping the Middle East and the former Eastern Bloc. Well, let me set the record straight on both accounts. I thought I'd take a few minutes and demonstrate, using as objective information as I can find, just how free, open, and stable this former Eastern Bloc country has been, is now, and, if past trends are any indication for future events, will yet be.

Using the information posted on Freedom House’s excellent website, I put together a rough and ready (and admittedly unscientific) comparison of Mongolia and the former East Bloc countries, many of whom, like Mongolia, were vassal states to the USSR. I also threw in a few Asian countries to provide regional comparison.

Legend:

Example: Country_A X / Y
where:

X = political rights

Y = civil liberties

Both X and Y are scored using numbers between 1 and 7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom, and 7, the lowest level.

Let’s start with the 1994 stats. (This was the earliest year for which Freedom House provides such statistics online). These numbers give us a pretty good idea of where things stood following the democratization that deluged the region once the Soviet dam broke.

Sorted by 1994 scores


Rank

Country

1994

1

Czech Republic

1/2


Hungary

1/2


Slovenia

1/2

4

Lithuania

1/3

5

Bulgaria

2/2


Poland

2/2

7

Mongolia

2/3


Slovakia

2/3

9

Estonia

3/2


Latvia

3/2

11

Albania

3/4


Armenia

3/4


Russia

3/4


Ukraine

3/4

15

Kygyz Republic

4/3


Macedonia

4/3


Romania

4/3

18

Belarus

4/4


Croatia

4/4


Moldova

4/4

21

Georgia

5/5

22

Kazakhstan

6/5

23

Azerbaijan

6/6


Bosnia-Herzegovina

6/6


Serbia and Montenegro

6/6

26

Tajikstan

7/7


Turkmenistan

7/7


Uzbekistan

7/7





Japan

2/2


S. Korea

2/2


Taiwan

3/3


India

4/4


China

7/7


N. Korea

7/7

Among other things, notice just how fast out of the gate Mongolia was in establishing its freedoms and democratizing its political process.1994 was about 4 years after Mongolia made the jarring transfer from autocracy/communism to democracy. Already, Mongolia had earned a highly respected 2/3 rating (from something I would guess to be in the 6/6 to 7/7 range).

In terms of rank, Mongolia had a strong showing at number 7—well ahead of the next Central Asian republic (Armenia) and also ahead of such traditionally western countries as Estonia and Latvia. Comparison with Mongolia’s geographical neighbors is even sharper: Russia, Mongolia’s neighbor to the north still hung at 3/4, Kazakhstan, immediately to the west, lingered at a dismal 6/5, while the Kyrgyz Republic, further to the west, came in at 4/3. China, just to the south, checked in with an atrocious 7/7.

There’s a lot more to be said, but I think it’s clear that Mongolia moved quickly and decisively in the direction of democracy. Even Romania could have learned (and, to anticipate myself a bit, still can) a lot from the Mongolians.

Let’s move on to see how things stand today, or at least as they stood in 2003, the last year for which I can find numbers:

Sorted by 2003 scores


Rank

Country

2003

1

Slovenia

1/1

2

Bulgaria

1/2


Czech Republic

1/2


Estonia

1/2


Hungary

1/2


Latvia

1/2


Lithuania

1/2


Poland

1/2


Slovakia

1/2

10

Croatia

2/2


Mongolia

2/2


Romania

2/2

13

Serbia and Montenegro

3/2

14

Albania

3/3


Macedonia

3/3

16

Moldova

3/4

17

Armenia

4/4


Bosnia-Herzegovina:

4/4


Georgia

4/4


Ukraine

4/4

21

Russia

5/5

22

Azerbaijan

6/5


Kazakhstan

6/5


Kygyz Republic

6/5


Tajikstan

6/5

26

Belarus

6/6

27

Uzbekistan

7/6

28

Turkmenistan

7/7





Japan

1/2


S. Korea

2/2


Taiwan

2/2


India

2/3


China

7/6


N. Korea

7/7

Despite moving down in the rankings over these ten years (from tied for 7th to tied for 10th) Mongolia’s score has improved (from 2/3 to 2/2). This demonstrates a number of things, principle among them Mongolia’s stability. With numbers like this, it's easy to understand why Mongolia has been able to have nine national parliamentary and presidential national elections in about 15 years--all of them free, fair, and, perhaps most tellingly, friendly (compare elsewhere in the region). That political power has changed been passed back and forth between several parties is an indication that the Republic is advancing more strongly, more peacefully, and more openly than ever.

It is also instructive to notice that the four countries that surpassed Mongolia in the ranking were all western (Latvia, Estonia, Croatia, Slovakia), and had, until Soviet expansion, had been philosophically and politically liberal, whereas Mongolia—it should go without saying—had not been. Rather, it had been under Chinese Nationalist and then, from 1921, Communist Russian domination. To say that Mongolia had enjoyed little to no open contact with liberal political ideas until the Iron Curtain unraveled would be too obvious by half. Nevertheless, Mongolia took hold of the idea of a liberal democracy and has been running ever since and ever faster.

Again, in comparison with many of its ethnic, cultural, or geographical cohorts, Mongolia’s standing in the survey form the period of 1994 to 2003 has proved exceptionally stable. A number of countries saw freedoms either advance and then retreat or retreat and then advance. Take several examples of the latter phenomenon. The Kyrgyz Republic had a score of 4/3 in 1994 (3rd best among Central Asian countries) but dropped to 6/5 by 2003 (and 4th from the bottom in CA). Belarus, then 4/4, has sunk to 6/6 under the heavy heel of Russia, which itself has dropped from 3/4 to 5/5. Kazakhstan, it must be said, has maintained stability, but stability of a rather wretched variety—6/5 then, 6/5 now. Indeed, Mongolia is an island of democratic freedom in a deeply troubled region (see a color coded map here [opens as a PDF]). (This article does not take into account the recent democratic struggles pursued by a number of CA nations).

Much more could be said, such as the parity Mongolia shares with such Asian nations as Taiwan (2/2) and South Korea (2/2) in terms of political rights and civil liberty, but I think that the numbers speak more clearly than I ever could. Regardless, by this much, it should be clear that Mongolia has been democratic since the very beginning of it’s new national existence, is democratic, and will remain democratic as long as it depends on the Mongolians. Indeed, my guess is that in the next year or two, Mongolia will make even greater strides in democracy and, in doing so, will continue to be a model for the fledgling democracies in the region and beyond.

Update: I have just discovered more complete data which covers the years 1972 through 2005 (click here). Mongolia has remained at a 2/2 (having risen, as I suspected, from a 7/7 in 1989). This newly-found data does not significantly impact the conclusions I drew in this article.

Update: Fixed mistake in rankings and a typo or two.

7 Comments:

Anonymous yan said...

I don't think pure numbers are that convincing.

I'd rather go with

is the government trying to ensure that elections are free and fair? - yes, even if they didn't completely succeed in 2004 (irregularities seemed to be limited to the local level, despite what both MPRP and MDC claimed)

Is the government using unfair means against the opposition? - don't think so

Has the government ever changed through elections? - yes, so far in every election after 1992

Is there a free press? - seems so

OTOH

Have state officials abused their power and got away unpunished - yes, see the Gundalai case for example

Have the respective goverments treated state TV and radio stations like their exclusive property - I think so

Is the judiciary really independent - arguable, I think if you look hard enough you can find cases that indicate otherwise

Has the government tried to intimidate parts of the press (by means like libel suits etc.) - yes



So, while Mongolia has been very succesful in building a democracy and embracing liberal values, there is still some work to do, namely regarding the rule of law. But I agree Romania may be a good comparison.

6/13/2005 2:41 AM  
Blogger nabetz said...

Although I didn't bring up the level of detail that you so helpfully did (although I did touch on your 1st and 3rd points), that wasn't really the aim of my piece. What I wanted to do was paint with broad strokes the gist of Mongolia's direction and trend since the mid 90s. In this case, my metric was the numbers from Freedom House. If these stats I provided are any indication, the trend is healthy and stable, as is, we would hope, Mongolia's future. Regardless, thank you for making these very important points.

Without question, one of the most pressing issues right now in Mongolia has to do with the rule of law. To my impression, however, Mongolians are generally quite tolerant of corruption and the uneven application of justice—at least more tolerant than many who grew up in most established democracies. As I've remarked before, many ordinary Mongolians--at this point in time anyway--simply can't imagine it any other way. And if it can’t be imagined any other way, there’s going to be precious little energy put into changing the way things are. To illustrate this point on a micro level, a few years ago (it may still be so today), students would help each other take exams at university (very much the way it was in Russia). When I suggested to one student that such behavior might not be the most honest, and that in the long term, such cheating may hurt folks more than help them, I was chastised for not understanding that what I called "cheating" was just the way things were done. There was little thought on the student’s part that things could, or even should, work differently. Whether this high tolerance for (or perhaps resignation toward) dishonesty in Mongolian society has trickled down from historic governmental corruption or vice versa, I do not know (I'd rather lay the blame at the feet of human nature, in which case whether corruption and toleration for it trickles down or up doesn't matter -- corruption/dishonesty is man's "natural state"). In any case, until a sizeable number of Mongolians (1) realize that things CAN be different, and (2) develop a bit more personal outrage vis-à-vis corruption both in their own lives and in those of their leaders, the rule of law is not likely to become any firmer. Not until the people change will a government of, by, and for the people change.

The key to success may be education, perhaps embodied in some sort of protracted campaign (grass roots) to instill the populace with good civic “morals,” practices, and eventually expectations. Perhaps that is a bit lofty and not wholly practical. But I suspect that I'm not alone in this opinion.

Anyway, the corruption vs. rule of law issue is something I've been cogitating on recently. Perhaps my thoughts will gel a bit more as time goes on....

6/13/2005 3:08 PM  
Blogger mongol said...

Yan and Nabetz:

You both have touched deep problems of Mongolian society. On the foreign press Mongolia has been modeling democracy, yet all Mongolians, I believe, will admit that they have ways to go and they still have not seen the true democracy. What is democray? What is it to live in the free world, to be free and to be able to give freedom to others?

Mongolia unfortunatly has long ways to go...How can country say that it is fully democratic when it spent houndreds of years under severe Chinease rule, and then another 70-80 years under Russian communist system, and it has been talking and hearing about democracy a little over 15 years? I can't believe any nation can adapt and change so fast to the new system.

I agree, education might be the key. But how long will it take to reeducate this nation?

6/13/2005 5:50 PM  
Blogger nabetz said...

Mongol,

This reminds me of something I read over at registan.net. It was written by Baaska, a Mongolian. I think it gets to the heart of what both you and I are saying and ties them together quite neatly. In the end, the question of a lasting democracy and cleaning up the democracy are really two sides of the same coin:

"People seemed to be entirely unready for democracy when democracy was made available to them. Most Mongolians’ concept of democracy was that they should get essentially whatever they wanted without having to really do anything for it. A popular phrase that was (and is) heard, in response to insisting that some unpleasant activity (ie. work) be performed: “Bid chini ardchilsan orond amidarch baigaa biz dee” (Aren’t we living in a democracy?).

"Most Mongolians don’t want to return to socialism, but they’d really prefer a democracy that works as opposed to the ones they’ve experienced thus far. I think they want what the rest of the world wants: a leadership that represents their best interests and provides for a higher quality of life. At best, the JSCM is about the business of cleansing the government of corruption. At worst, it seeks to exchange existing corrupted officials for corrupted officials that will benefit them. Probably, it’s somewhere in the middle."

source: http://www.registan.net/?p=4881#comment-13817

As I've noted before, this conundrum I think would be a most fruitful avenue for consideration and discussion.

6/13/2005 9:04 PM  
Blogger Jaruul said...

Mongolia is long way to go for sure. However, I am proud what Mongolia has accomplished considering the size and economy of the country in short period of time. Indeed corruption is common not just in Mongolia or pro communist countries, but also in developed democratic countries. Members of Liberal Party of Canada have misused billions of dollars for personal use and it is been a hot media topic. Yet, Liberal Party of Canada will still win the next election and they have managed to defer an early election. What that tell you?

6/28/2005 5:15 PM  
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