The Political Process

The Political Process

Since 1924 the Mongolian political system and apparatus, patterned after those in the Soviet Union, has followed the organizational principle of democratic centralism. As applied in the Soviet Union, this principle concentrates decision-making authority and the power to take policy initiatives at senior party levels. Throughout the party system, the decisions of higher-level bodies are binding on subordinate-level party organizations. The democratic feature of this Leninist principle prescribes that members of party organizations at all levels are elected by conferences of delegates and are accountable to their respective electorates. Policy issues are to be discussed freely within the party organizations, but once final decisions (expressed in programs) are adopted, strict party discipline then dictates that policies be implemented exactly, without any further expressions of disagreement.

Democratic Centralism

Under the guidance of early party leaders Horloyn Choybalsan and Yumjaagiyn Tsedenbal, the principle of democratic centralism was weighted heavily toward its centralizing features, just as it was being applied in the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. Purges, reprisals, and political violence in Mongolia mirrored the arbitrary behavior of Stalin. Choybalsan directed his attacks against political foes, rivals, and religious institutions. After Choybalsan's death in 1952 and Tsedenbal's emergence as the top party and government leader, Mongolian politics again followed the Soviet example. Starting in 1956, Tsedenbal initiated an extensive anti-Stalinist, anti-Choybalsan campaign, accusing the party leader of having conducted a "cult of personality" like Stalin.

In 1989, in the latest mirroring of Soviet politics, observers concluded that the democratic aspects of democratic centralism were beginning to play an enhanced role in Mongolian politics. Highly personalized and centralized politics were giving way to increased involvement by more democratic or representative sectors. Party general secretary Batmonh, speaking before the important fifth plenary session of the Central Committee held December 21-22, 1988, emphasized the need for "renewal" of the Mongolian sociopolitical system by "democratizing the party's inner life." Just before the plenary session, in November 1988, Batmonh pointed to the poor performance of the Mongolian economy even under the policies of "renewal," or Soviet-style restructuring. He gave as reasons for this condition a lack of vitality in the Mongolian political system, which, he said, could be remedied only by a more open and free social and political system.

At the December 1988 plenary session, which focused on reform of the political system, Batmonh spoke at length on the Mongolian equivalent of glasnost and perestroika and, for the first time, identified by name his predecessor, Tsedenbal, with the social, economic, and political problems that plagued Mongolia. In addition, Batmonh linked Tsedenbal's shortcomings with the "serious damage" that the personality cult of Choybalsan had caused and charged that "democracy was restricted and the administrative-command method of management took the upper hand."

Probably with a view to containing the political impact of these provocative statements, Batmonh urged the leadership to recognize these mistakes in leadership in a positive and instructive way. He also laid out the new political course by emphasizing that "a key point to the transformation and renewal" was recognition of the importance of the various levels of assemblies of people's deputies. He said the assemblies' deputies embodied the institutional expression of self-government now regarded as essential to the efficient and effective functioning of the political system. In addition to stressing the importance of these representative bodies, Batmonh exhorted several key mass organizations, particularly the trade unions and the Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League, to play a more active role in "perfecting organizational renewal" by becoming more vocal about issues and more involved in reform programs. Accordingly, democratic reform was to be carried out at all levels--in central and local government bodies, as well as in party, state, and mass organizations. The assemblies of people's deputies and all mass organizations were to be made responsible for "perfecting" the government system by engaging in free dialogue and in criticism and debate of reform issues and programs.

This speech by Batmonh set the agenda for further party action. The fifth plenary session concluded with the Central Committee's adoption of a seven-point resolution espousing the democratization of the political system. Batmonh discussed the major party reforms involved during an interview reported in the March 1989 issue of the Soviet periodical, New Times. They included: reducing the size of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party membership and giving priority to the primary party organization, the point of contact with the Mongolian population; setting a fixed five-year term of office for elected party bodies, from the Central Committee to the district party committee, and limiting the opportunity to be reelected to one further consecutive term; holding party conferences every two to three years, with the partial--up to 25 percent--replacement of members of party committees; and conducting Political Bureau and Secretariat elections by secret ballot. In general, these party reforms were to contribute to a rejuvenation of party leadership and to democratize internal party politics.

Batmonh revealed that government reforms being proposed at the fifth plenary session were to emphasize the People's Great Hural and assemblies of people's deputies as the "political basis of the state." He said that a distinction would be more clearly drawn between the functions of party and state organizations. Briefly, party organizations were to make policy decisions, the results of which were to be managed and implemented through government representative bodies. Major government reforms included reducing and streamlining the government bureaucracy; limiting the term in office in any of the representative assemblies to five years, with only one opportunity for reelection; nominating several candidates for an office; and discussing candidate qualifications freely. Following up on the fifth plenary session's initiatives, the Political Bureau proposed developing revisions to both the Party Program and the state Constitution to reflect Batmonh's concerns. In February 1989, a commission was formed to begin drafting a new edition of the state Constitution, to be presented for national discussion by December 1989. Addressing its first meeting, Batmonh asserted that "implementation of restructuring in the country was impossible without perfecting its existing laws, and this matter should be started with a new edition of the . . . Constitution." In addition, a new body was being planned, the Commission for Constitutional Control, to improve adherence to the Constitution. Revisions of the Rules of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party and to the Party Program were to be ready for the Twentieth Party Congress planned for 1991.

In large measure, Batmonh's efforts to emphasize and to strengthen the democratic features in the political system reflected his responsiveness to precedents set in Moscow. Nevertheless, if implemented, these reforms may have at least the short-term effect of opening debate and allowing more discussion of pressing local issues, a development that might improve the quality of life for Mongolians. Over the long term, the permanence of these "democratic" policies was likely to be related closely to the success or the failure of the ongoing economic programs.

Batmonh's professional background fits neatly into the mold of the senior Mongolian political leader. He was born in 1926 in Hyargas Somon, Uvs Aymag, in western Mongolia, reportedly to a peasant family of herdsmen. Like his predecessor, Tsedenbal, Batmonh was educated in the Soviet Union, at the Academy of Social Sciences. Typical of past and present members of the party Political Bureau, Batmonh has a strong economic-technical background. He studied at the Mongolian State University, and in the late 1960s he was rector of the Higher School of Economics. From 1963 to 1973, he was vice rector and then rector of the Mongolian State University. Batmonh's political ascent was rapid and remarkable. While serving as head of the Central Committee's Department of Science and Education, he became chairman of the Council of Ministers in June 1974, without first being elected to Political Bureau membership. At that time, he was only a candidate member of the Central Committee. By December 1984, Batmonh was concurrently the party's general secretary, having replaced Tsedenbal in August, and chairman of the Presidium of the People's Great Hural. He thus had control over, and access to, the two governing bureaucracies, securing his place at the center of the political system.

Sodnom was the second most prominent leader in Mongolia in the late 1980s. Born in 1933 in Orgon Somon, Dornogovi Aymag, Sodnom graduated from the Finance and Economics Technical School in Ulaanbaatar and the Finance and Economics Institute in Irkutsk, Soviet Union. His professional career concentrated on economics and planning. From 1963 to 1969, Sodnom was minister of finance; by 1974 he was chairman of the State Planning Commission. He became a full Political Bureau member and chairman of the Council of Ministers (premier) in December 1984, succeeding Batmonh.

The backgrounds of others serving on the Political Bureau in 1989 were mixed, but they shared a notable emphasis on economics and state-planning experience. Demchigjabyn Molomjamts, perhaps the third most influential leader, was minister of finance and concurrently held key state planning positions. Altangerel was concurrently the first deputy premier. Colonel General Jamsrangiyn Dejid a former minister of public security, was concurrently a party secretary. Namsray, a former aide to Tsedenbal and a journalist, was elected to the Political Bureau in June 1984, just before Tsedenbal's retirement in August. Candidate Political Bureau members Bandzragchiyn Lamjab and Sonomyn Lubsangombo represented different, but critical, career specialties. Lamjab concurrently served as chairman of the Party Control Commission. Lubsangombo, an urban development specialist, was chairman of the State Building Commission and deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers (or, deputy premier).

Political Issues

The political leadership style of Batmonh can be described as cautious and pragmatic, and it explains in part why the senior leadership levels in the party have escaped major shake-ups. Under his leadership, the political program has focused on bringing greater productivity, efficiency, and material prosperity to society. Implementing this program, however, has raised certain key political issues of central concern to Batmonh and other top party leaders. One issue has been the performance of the party and government bureaucracies. The official bureaucracy has come under attack for apathy to reform measures and for displays of resistance to their implementation. Another major criticism, often related to those just cited, was that some party and government leaders were considered either unqualified or too inept to understand and to carry out reform programs.

In attempts to address this issue, party pronouncements have stressed the participation and the accountability of officials at all levels of the bureaucracy. This has been accomplished in some measure at the provincial level by increasing participation of aymag first secretaries on the party Central Committee. Having them serve on this national body included them in the policy debate and made them responsible for, and accountable for, the effective implementation of policies and programs. In 1986 the Central Committee included fourteen of the eighteen first secretaries, as either full or candidate members. Two of the unrepresented aymags actually were represented indirectly by having representatives on the Central Committee who had been elected from the autonomous cities, Darhan and Erdenet, located within those aymags. Two decades earlier, only a few aymag first secretaries served on the party Central Committee.

In 1989 the change that linked aymag leaders to the national- level leadership probably did not indicate a major decentralization of political power in Mongolia. Official policy still followed precedents set in the Soviet Union that were transmitted by the central party structure. Instead, these "decentralizing" measures appeared to be inspired more by a recognition of the nature of past economic stagnation and failure. They were designed to provide aymag party leaders with a substantial political stake in the regime in order to win their much needed enthusiasm and commitment to the new reformist goals.

Creative approaches and bold thinking were qualities that the regime espoused to energize its often-complacent bureaucracy. At the Nineteenth Congress in 1986, Batmonh echoed the reformist thrust of Mikhail Gorbachev's speech to the preceding Twentyseventh Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Batmonh stressed that party members needed to "think and work in new ways." He identified as the "chief political result of the supreme forum of Mongolian Communists" (that is, the party congress) the recognition that more attention had to be paid to party ideological and organizational work and "to strengthening inner-party democracy." Batmonh raised similar themes in his key December 1988 plenary session speech. In discussing ideological work within the party bureaucracy, he identified the main task as being "to foster in people a scientific world outlook and further raise their social consciousness."

Developing a program of "renewal and rejuvenation" has precipitated as an issue the question of what should constitute the official view of Mongolian history. Who were the heroes, and who obstructed progress? By late 1988, Tsedenbal, for the first time, was identified with the regime's economic failures because economic stagnation and official dogmatism that stifled growth and creativity flourished during his tenure. The charges leveled against Tsedenbal during this revision of modern Mongolian history also appeared to extend into the emotional area of the fate and the status of indigenous Mongolian cultural institutions and heritage. Calling for a "realistic appraisal" of Tsedenbal's career, Batmonh said "we draw serious conclusions on the acts of destroying historical and cultural monuments, monasteries and temples. But that bitter lesson was not duly considered, and even today a careless attitude to national culture persists." Filling in what have been called "blank spots" in Mongolian history appeared in mid-1989 to extend even to the historical treatment of Chinggis Khan and perhaps can be viewed as one important barometer of political change in Mongolia. Traditionally, the Soviet press has described Chinggis as a "feudal and backward element." By early 1989, the Mongolian press had adopted a more positive view of this historic national figure, a change suggesting that, politically, the Mongolian leadership has begun to move somewhat out from under Soviet political tutelage.

Role of the Military

The Mongolian military establishment played only a minor role in the political system in the late 1980s. In 1989, no Political Bureau member or candidate member represented defense interests. Dejid served on the Political Bureau and the Secretariat, but not as a military leader. Rather, his responsibilities were civilian in nature, involving preservation of party and state unity and discipline in the course of carrying out the new programs of openness and leadership restructuring.

Dejid's career experience was typical of military leaders who had risen to positions of influence in party and state circles. Dejid was a former minister of public security and chairman of the Party Control Commission. During his active military service, he was involved in public security, censorship, and civilian control activities. Ancillary to these duties were his obligations to greet visiting Soviet military delegations and to participate in defense discussions with Soviet commanders.

The percentage of military representation on the party Central Committee was not reported officially, but the number was thought to be small. It was clear that military officers with direct and primary defense responsibilities maintained a low political profile. This was well illustrated by the fact that Colonel General Jamsrangiyn Yondon, minister of defense in 1989, was not a member of the Central Committee when he was selected for the senior government defense post in 1982. The welldocumented career of Yondon's predecessor, Jorantayn Abhia, was characteristic of a member of the Mongolian military elite. Abhia held several key positions successively in police or militia work and in the court and procuracy system. Senior military officers often filled the key positions in government public security and in the civil and criminal justice system. In 1989 the minister of public security was Lieutenant General Agbaanjantsangiyn Jamsranjab, and the chief of state security was Lieutenant General B. Tsiyregdzen. Tsiyregdzen's duties included suppressing anti-Soviet propaganda and counterespionage as well as guarding against alleged Western subversion, particularly through censorship of the mails.

Probably the greatest impact the military has had on the Mongolian political process has been indirect--through its organizational and ideological activities. Beginning with the militarist period of leadership under Choybalsan and even in 1989, the military establishment contributed to the formation in the popular consciousness of the concepts of state and national polity. In addition, the army played a significant role in spreading literacy, and it served as an integrating agent by spreading the national language to minority groups. In the 1970s and 1980s, as a result of improvements in media and communications, the military probably has found it somewhat easier to fulfill the goal of producing a dedicated cadre of soldiers who will return to civilian life.

General Political Values and Attitudes

The political system became heavily regimented under communism and the organizational principle of democratic centralism. Young and elderly citizens, urban and rural dwellers, skilled and unskilled laborers all had to become fully involved in, and cognizant of, the goals and the ideological content of party programs. Inevitably, the implementation of this political system has provoked a variety of responses. Mongolians, now middle-aged and older, who by 1959 had experienced collectivization and were deprived of their animal herds and the freedom to roam in search of new pastures, harbored resentment against the government's procedures and limitations on their erstwhile freedoms. Any outright opposition was put down quickly, but negative feelings probably have not been eradicated.

Support for the regime existed, and it was likely to continue in the 1990s among those with the greatest stake in the success of its policies--for example, party and government cadres, economists, and technocrats. The earlier sovietization of politics and society, and the role of officials in that process, had given this group an elevated status, but with the concomitant requirement that they exhort the people to uphold the preferred values of conformity and political orthodoxy at the expense of more traditional values and spontaneity. Improvements in communications and transportation as well as the opportunities for reaching a larger audience afforded by increased literacy have permitted the communist regime and its cadres more immediate contact with the populace. By the 1980s, there were no more mass political purges, but the state machinery had become more efficient and pervasive in organization. Its political influence was deeply felt throughout the country. How this system would fare under the reformist policies of openness and democratization could not be assessed in mid-1989.

Reportedly, some resistance to this method of rule--from Mongolian youths who were better-educated, aware that change was occurring, and anxious that even greater openness be permitted-- was becoming evident. Politically, they seemed to advocate extending the trend toward democratization. They viewed democracy more as a human right than as a means for improving the political system and its policies, by such methods as encouraging public criticism of cadre incompetence, poor management practices, and so forth. Youth demands also may have been shared by the artistic community and by some members of the intelligentsia. The latter, while saluting the de-Stalinization campaign ongoing in 1989, also may have wanted a more extensive reappraisal of Mongolian culture and its heroes. It was difficult to assess how deep these feelings were, but observers doubted that they represented any immediate threat to the regime's stability.

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