Munkhtsetseg Tserenjamts won her seat in a highly-contested Ulaanbaatar constituency. Before her political career Munkhtsetseg was a professor for political science at the National University of Mongolia and the director of the MPP’s think tank “Strategy Academy”. She is the Vice President of the MPP’s Women’s Organization and now one of 13 female members of parliament.
FES Mongolia: What is your take on the MPP’s resounding election victory?
Munkhtsetseg Tserenjamts: This was a very special election. First and foremost because it took place during the global COVID-19 pandemic. In many countries elections were disturbed or postponed. But Mongolia followed the example set by South Korea in April 2020 and decided to move forward with the election as planned. Campaigning in such unprecedented circumstances was quite challenging. Candidates were urged to mostly campaign online. When holding rallies social distancing regulations were strictly enforced. I had to wear a face shield when talking to voters. On election day, additional precautionary measures were taken at the polling stations like mandatory temperature measurements, hand sanitizing, and disinfection of voting machines.
As for the result of the election, there were three major factors at play: Firstly, most Mongolian voters obviously appreciated the handling of the COVID-19 crisis by Prime Minister Khurelsukh’s government and voted for stability. Secondly, it was essential for the MPP’s campaign to fight corruption and misconduct in its own ranks in order to regain credibility after some scandals in the past that, among others, also involved members of parliament. That is why roughly half of MPP candidates were first-time candidates. And thirdly, the party’s platform with its focus on social justice labelled as a “contract for development” between the government and the Mongolian people was very popular. The individual proposals were centred around fighting inequality, improving quality of life, and establishing a middle class in Mongolia. Despite its rich mineral deposits Mongolia is struggling with high rates of wealth inequality, poor living conditions in rural areas especially due to air pollution, and persistent poverty for roughly one third of the country’s population. The MPP promised to mainly use future export earnings to tackle these challenges by strong government investments in our social safety net, education, and infrastructure.
Why did you choose to run for parliament and what were your biggest challenges?
I have studied Mongolian politics, political parties, and the electoral process for more than 20 years. After leaving university and working as the director of the MPP Strategy Academy I was approached by our party’s chairman to run for parliament. He said MPP needed more academics to support and further improve its policies. I was excited to become a part of a new generation of MPP politicians that might bring some urgently needed change to politics.
The biggest challenge was financing my campaign. There are around 100.000 voters in my constituency, and it was quite an effort to reach out to as many as possible. Like every candidate I relied on a large supporting staff of party volunteers that by law must be paid by the candidate. There is virtually no state funding for campaigns of political parties and the only way to finance a campaign are loans and donations. I wish that in the future party members could support their candidates on a voluntary basis without the legal obligation for financial reimbursements to make it easier for less affluent people to engage in politics. Another challenge were the social distancing provisions that limited the amount of personal interactions with voters severely. Being a new and lesser known candidate with 38 competitors in my constituency was a serious disadvantage under these circumstances.
Mongolia’s law on elections requires a quota of 20 per cent female candidates. But only 17 per cent of members of parliament are female. Why?
The law regulates only the number of candidates and naturally not every candidate is elected. Additionally, sometimes female candidates are put up by their parties to run in especially challenging races that are not popular among male competitors. And most importantly, Mongolian parties consider the quota not as a bottom line but rather as a ceiling for female candidates. This is the crux of such a quota – especially when it applies only to candidates. That is why I personally hope that parties will commit to nominate at least 30 percent female candidates so that there is a realistic possibility that at least 20 percent of them will make it to parliament.
Another way to achieve more gender equality could be by means of the law on political parties. This law is due to be revised in the near future and could include provisions requiring specific training programmes for female politicians to unlock more state funding for political parties. But promoting female politicians is also an important task for the women’s organizations within the Mongolian parties. They should allocate more resources on supporting emerging female politicians and promoting interest among younger women for a political career. It is equally important that the media report more on gender equality and the challenges women face in politics. Too often media reporting on female candidates – if it occurs at all – focusses more on their personal life than their policy proposals.
When will Mongolia have its first female Prime Minister or President?
If we manage to have at least 20 percent female members of parliament maybe in 2028, there might be a chance for a female Prime Minister. For the President it is hard to say. So far, we had only one female candidate back in 2013. It will probably take some time, surely not before 2030.
Being a woman in Mongolian politics can be tough. Female politicians are pushed into policy fields that are traditionally seen as “female” such as children’s rights, social issues, and women’s rights. They are not seen as leaders. But I believe they should be taken seriously in whatever policy field they choose to be experts in. That is why I chose to become the only female member of the Standing Judiciary Committee where I want to focus on strengthening Mongolian democracy by fighting legal inequalities and political corruption.
What are your goals for the next four years?
My campaign slogan was „justice in our society and equal opportunities for everyone” and I want to focus on fighting the unjust distribution of wealth, income, and power in Mongolia. This means that those found guilty of corruption must bear the consequences especially in our civil service and judicial system. The impression of widespread corruption in politics, bureaucracy, and courts is what frustrates many people in Mongolia and poses a great danger for our democracy. It is our job as a parliament to create a clear legal framework and make sure that our government enforces these rules.
Education is another pillar of my political work. Many studies have shown that our educational system does not provide equal opportunities for all children. Those coming from higher income families persistently perform better in exams. I want to change this by providing free and high-quality education for every child. Thus, funding for public schools and universities needs to be dramatically increased. Simultaneously, public funding for profit-oriented private schools should be decreased whereas funding for non-profit private schools could be continued if they serve the interests of all children despite their background. Also, we need to take better care of the teachers who are – especially those in public schools – mostly poorly paid and precariously employed. They deserve better pay, safer jobs, and more appreciation by society. This is how we can attract the best teachers for public schools.
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