In March-April 2023, an annual “Politbarometer” was conducted in Mongolia – a comprehensive survey of public opinion on a variety of issues related to politics, the economy, and the public welfare of the country. In May 2023 the processed results of the survey were posted on the web site of its organizer, Sant Maral.
Many milestone events have occurred in Mongolia over the past 12 months: the largest corruption scandal in the country’s history, accompanied by major social unrest; the recovery of coal exports to China; the commissioning of the deep mine at Oyu Tolgoi deposit; the implementation of the so-called “New Reconstruction Policy”; the intense debate on the prospects for constitutional reform, the “boom” in auto and railroad construction, and the emergence of hopes for the restoration of sustainable economic growth. All these milestone events are expressed or implied in the new survey.
The results of Politbarometer 2023 differ significantly from last year’s data, which is a clear reflection of a paradigm shift in the mood of the Mongolian public. This article will examine the major “transformations” in Mongols’ perceptions of their country’s domestic political and economic problems.
In the most general terms the results of Politbarometer 2023 when compared to 2022 could be described with three summarizing theses:
1- The shift of citizens’ focus from economic growth issues to issues of social development and well-being
2 – The worsening, though not complete yet, disillusionment of citizens with the phenomenon of democracy
3 – The decline of Mongolian citizens’ trust in most politicians and in the political process as a whole.
The first thesis is confirmed by the following survey data. First, the share of citizens who note the deteriorating economic situation increased by 6% over the year (from 44% to 50%). And this despite the fact that 2022 was still the “year of the coronavirus recession” in Mongolia. At the same time, the bias toward social problems is clearly seen in a number of survey points: for example, the share of respondents who thought it necessary to redeploy mining revenues (the main economic sector in the country) toward the country’s economic development decreased from 41 to 36 percent, while the share of those in favor of redistributing the same revenues toward the development of education and healthcare doubled (from 7 to 13 percent). In the list of the most pressing problems the inequality of access to education has risen significantly. The share of citizens who expect the state to reduce income inequality is also showing steady growth.
The perception of Mongolian democracy, as well as its future prospects, continues to deteriorate. In 2023 an important event happened – it was the first time in recent years, when the share of people dissatisfied with the current state of democracy in Mongolia is far behind those with the opposite opinion: while last year’s indicator was “balanced” with a ratio of 51% dissatisfied to 47% satisfied, in 2023 there are as many as 60% of “skeptics” vs. 39% of “optimists.” The share of respondents who saw a developed democracy in Mongolia also fell, from 11.3 percent to 8 percent. At the same time, many Mongolians are concerned about the prospect of the Mongolian political system turning into a dictatorship – this year there are 13% more citizens who see this transformation (42% vs. 29% last year). It should be noted that this growth has been a trend in recent years.
Nevertheless, Mongolian citizens have regrets regarding the deterioration of democracy in the country. In particular, in 2023 there was a significant increase in the number of citizens who considered the dominance of a strong leader in the country unacceptable for Mongolia. The survey at the same time shows the gain in the importance of civil society for the Mongolians, and an increase in the expectations associated with it.
But the most widespread shift in public mood is the strong disappointment with the political life of the country, from politicians to parties, from government agencies to problems like corruption. This is shown by the data from almost all of this year’s public polls on political issues. It is necessary to dwell on the most significant of them:
– “The government is doing the right things for citizens” – the share of disagreeing with the statement rose from 49% to 65%.
The share of respondents dissatisfied with the actions of governments increased from 48% to 67%. At the same time, the index of disapproval of the opposition has also increased – from 57% to 66% of dissatisfied. It is a less visible drop than the first indicator, but it illustrates the growing dissatisfaction of citizens not so much with the ruling People’s Party, but with the entire party system.
-60% of citizens note the government’s inability to deal with current “socio-political or economic problems.”
-64% of those surveyed believe that the ruling party is “going in the wrong direction,” compared to 40% from last year.
-41% of survey participants believe that the government primarily protects the interests of the rich (only 29% last year)
-84% of citizens want to see large-scale political and economic reforms.
A special place in the results of the new survey is dedicated to corruption. In the ranking of the main problems of Mongolia, the surveyed citizens put it in fourth place, instead of eighth last year.
The decline in authority is observed not only in state institutions and parties. Politbarometer 2023 also reflected a decline in the level of trust in the politicians themselves. Thus, the share of citizens who believe that a particular individual should play a more prominent role in the political life of the country has decreased significantly in relation to all key politicians. The “victims” of the most dramatic fall in personal popularity were President Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh (from 40% to 14%), who only two years ago had won a direct and general election, Prime Minister Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene (from 25% to 14%) and Mongolian Parliament Speaker Gombojav Zandanshatar (from 8% to 2%). This echoes directly their passive and cautious reaction to the Mongolian corruption scandal of last December. Remarkably, the balance of power in the personal “confrontation” between the president and the prime minister in 2023 has changed greatly – Khürelsükh has lost the title of the clear-cut favorite, and in terms of “credibility” he is even behind the young Harvard graduate Oyun-Erdene.
Thus, the results of Mongolia’s annual public opinion poll, while not unexpected, still impressed researchers with the significant shifts in the political and economic outlook of its citizens. The worsening distrust of citizens towards politicians, parties and state institutions, the growing recognition of the incompleteness of democratic transformations while maintaining faith in democracy, the growing urgency of corruption and social development issues – this, to the great regret of this author, is the mood of the Mongolian public in the year 2023 according to the survey.
Boris Kushkhov, the Department for Korea and Mongolia at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”