Unrest in Mongolia as coalition govt disintegrates

Unrest broke out on the streets of Ulan Bator on Thursday as Mongolia’s democratic government edged closer to collapse following allegations of political corruption and economic mismanagement.

More than 500 protesters converged on the capital’s central square and stormed the office of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) to voice their anger over its withdrawal from the ruling coalition.

The former Soviet-backed MPRP triggered the political crisis on Wednesday when its 10 ministers resigned from the 18-member coalition Cabinet, ending an alliance of nearly two years with the Democratic Party.

Prime Minister Tsakhia Elbegdorj, who belongs to the Democratic Party, was hanging on for his political life, with Parliament on Thursday debating his position and whether to ratify the resignations.

But with the MPRP holding 38 of the 76 seats in Parliament and confident of gaining the support of at least one minority party member, the ratification of the resignations and Elbegdorj’s downfall appeared all but certain.

The MPRP is then expected to promote one of its own as the next prime minister. 

Mongolia, a former Soviet satellite, had been regarded as one of the more democratically successful and stable Central Asian states until this week’s events, as well as an important ally for the United States.

US President George Bush visited Mongolia in November last year to praise the nation as an outpost of stable democracy and thank it for its troop contribution to Iraq.

“You are an example of success for this region and the world,” Bush said during his visit, the first by a US leader to the country.

“And I have come to tell you: as you build a free society in the heart of Central Asia, the American people stand with you.”

However, Mongolia, an isolated nation with a population of just 2.7-million people, has remained one of the world’s poorest during its 14 years of post-Soviet democracy and economic growth has slowed recently.

The MPRP said Elbegdorj’s economic mismanagement was a key factor in its decision to withdraw from the government, while also alleging cronyism.

“The MPRP has regularly expressed its concerns over the government’s actions to the prime minister,” the party said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, our beliefs and efforts have become hopeless, and the social and political situation has become unstable. Distrust and suspicion have spread in society.”

Elbegdorj’s Democratic Party countered that the MPRP had only acted after being exposed for corrupt practices, including the recent jailing of the nation’s customs chief, who was an MPRP member.

“The Democratic Party considers this measure [the MPRP resignations]... an unproductive way to protect its dirty and dishonourable actions,” the party said in a statement.

“Cooperation in the executive body does not mean we must protect illegal actions of each other, especially on corruption deals.”

As the parties traded accusations, hundreds of police and army soldiers were called on to the streets of the capital to prevent protests from escalating.

Soldiers were lined up three or four deep to protect the MPRP’s office in Ulan Bator’s central square after it was ransacked, according to an AFP reporter on the scene.

Heavy deployments of police and soldiers were also on guard at the nearby government house, which is the home of Parliament and the president’s office.

However the soldiers appeared to be unarmed and there were no initial reports of injuries.

An MPRP spokesperson, who declined to be named, said the organisaton’s headquarters had been badly damaged in the unrest.

“They have actually savagely destroyed the inside of the building of the MPRP,” the spokesperson said.

“We don’t have a clear count of how many people were injured or if anyone has been injured at all.
It could possibly be [that some were injured], but we don’t have any information at this time.”

Mongolia is stuck between China, the world’s most powerful communist regime, and Russia, which is undergoing its own turbulent transition to democracy. - AFP

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