Pro-democracy forces in Mongolia are mobilizing to resist what they portray as a government attempt to roll back reforms. Opposition politicians and NGO activists assert that the government is stifling dissent and manipulating mass media. Officials counter that they are merely upholding the law.
An NGO forum, scheduled to be held November 25, is expected to draw hundreds of participants, including farmers who stand to be adversely affected if existing land privatization provisions are implemented. The forum will examine the events of November 13, when authorities forcibly broke up a protest against the privatization law. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archives]. The forum will also explore methods to pressure the government, which is dominated by former Communists of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party MPRP, to discuss the issue with land law opponents.
The government's tough stand against demonstrators, and its refusal to engage the demonstrators in a dialogue, has many Mongolian NGO activists and opposition politicians worried about its commitment to democratic principles. Following the collapse of one-party rule in 1990, the country of 2.5 million embarked on perhaps the most ambitious reform path of any formerly Communist country. By the late 1990s, however, reforms languished, paving the way for an MPRP electoral landslide in 2000 parliamentary elections. [For background information see the Eurasia Insight archives].
On November 19, about 3,000 members and supporters of the main opposition Democratic Party of Mongolia gathered near Ulanbataar's main Sukhbataar Square to complain about the government's recent actions. During the November 13 events, opposition leaders say law-enforcement officials surrounded the Democratic Party's headquarters, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the building, including members of parliament. Demonstrators demanded that the government launch an investigation no later than December 1 into the conduct of law-enforcement officials.
"Present leaders of the MPRP managed to use such force against their people that was not used even by their hard communist predecessors in 1990," said Erdenebat, an MP who is the chairman of the Mongolian Democratic New Socialist Party. Erdenebat, like many Mongolians, uses only one name.
Placards at the rally summed up the sentiments of the protesters: "No place for Communism in Mongolia;" "Democracy in Danger;" and "Stop Using Police as a Weapon!"
Government officials have denied acting improperly, or that police used excessive force to break up the November 13 land privatization protest, during which 44 people were detained. A government statement distributed to journalists said law-enforcement personnel would not harass any individual who "behaves in accordance with the law."
Authorities made no move to disrupt the November 19 protest, but a local Ulanbataar official, Enkhbayar, described the rally as "an illegal demonstration with clear political demands."
Opposition leaders have charged the government with manipulating news coverage of recent developments, pointing out that most major mass media outlets are controlled by the state. In numerous media reports, top government officials, including Munkh-Orgil, the vice minister of Justice and Internal Affairs, denied that police blockaded the Democratic Party headquarters on November 13.
Participants at the November 19 rally refused to speak to a correspondent from Mongolian National Television. One protester explained that "While MPRP leaders are controlling national TV, we do not accept its journalists as independent."
Oyungerel Tsedevdamba is a freelance journalist who also works as a volunteer at the Liberty Center in Ulanbataar.