On May 31, the Mongolian parliament passed a major constitutional reform to enlarge the legislative body from 76 members to 126. The change will impact Mongolia’s electoral system and representative democracy at large.
The proposal to increase the number of legislators to either 152 or 126 has been the subject of a prolonged legal debate among Mongolian leaders. After years of discussion, the government reached a final consensus – one that will alter Mongolia’s democracy, governance, and the ways in which constituencies vote for their legislative representatives.
The newly passed reform incorporates a mixed electoral system: 78 members of the State Great Khural will be elected by majority vote in a dedicated constituency, and the remaining 48 members will be elected by proportional representation.
The hope with the mixed electoral system is that there will be more opportunities for civil society to have representation.
This is not the only change. According to the government’s official summary, there are three main amendments in this round of reform:
Article 21 : The State Great Khural (Parliament) shall have one chamber composed of seventy-eight members elected through a majoritarian system and forty-eight members elected through proportional representation.
Article 66 : The Constitutional Court shall examine and decide disputes regarding a violation of the civil rights and freedoms stipulated in the Constitution pursuant to the petition of the citizen who believes that their rights have been violated in accordance with the procedures provided by the law and make a final decision.
Article 13 : The term “the supreme organs of State” in Section 1 of Article 13 of the Constitution of Mongolia shall be changed to “the supreme executive organ of State / highest organ of State power.”
The reforms passed Mongolia’s parliament easily, by a vote of 62-6.
The changes are supposed to take effect in time for Mongolia’s next legislative elections in 2024. Another round of changes to government spending, gender equality, and other important details is expected to follow soon.
First and foremost, this constitutional reform aims to strengthen the legislators’ service to their constituencies by reducing the average number of voters represented by each lawmaker. One issue that has been highly debated in previous discussions is the disproportionate representation of the constituencies nationwide. Legal analysts and some former parliamentarians have argued this represents a major distortion in the Mongolian 1992 Constitution.
The increase in Mongolia’s population size and its concentration in Ulaanbaatar – the capital – contributed to the disproportionate electoral system. The expansion of the State Great Khural aims to address and solve this major issue. The average number of voters per constituency has increased from “27,000 in 1992 to 44,000 today.” More lawmakers will mean smaller constituencies, bringing the average back down.
The change is not universally popular, however. One of the “no” votes, independent legislator Davaasuren Tserenpil, explained that his constituency of 900 disapproved of the decision; therefore, he did not vote in support.
Meanwhile, allowing for voters to select representatives through party lists will, in theory, allow for more diversity in Mongolia’s parliament, as proportional representation is generally better for smaller parties than a simple majority-rules system. In Mongolia, which is a multiparty system that in practice has been dominated by two parties, it has the potential to be an important change.
The goal of the overhaul is to “bring parliamentarians closer to the people they are elected to service, as well as enhancing the scrutiny given to new laws,” according to the government’s summary.
This argument does not directly address, but may be an implicit response to, the fact that the public’s trust and confidence in the government – both current and previous administrations – has long been on the decline.
The second major element of constitutional reform touches on the balance of power between the legislative and the executive branch.
The round of amendments to the constitution in 2019 aimed to limit parliament’s influence in the executive branch – ultimately strengthening the prime minister and his cabinet. Former Prime Minister Saikhanbileg Chimed, who served from 2014 to 2016, has spoken about this problem during his administration.
Current Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai has corroborated this sentiment. In his remarks during the last parliamentary session, he condemned the misconception that fueled the balance of power between the legislative and the executive branch. He stated, “At times, the parliament acted in such a way that the Mongolian government has 76 [prime ministers with executive power].”
In his view, “The proportional system will prevent businesspeople from joining politics to make a profit or use political power to their advantage.”
According to the government, the amendments “will strengthen [Mongolia’s] legislature, increase transparency, and bring legislators closer to the people they serve.”
In his closing remarks, Oyun-Erdene stated, “Today, I express my gratitude towards the members for their decision to decentralize power. The role of a parliament member will no longer be dominated by business minds. This pivotal change will ensure that the fundamental principle of truly representing the people and serving as a public representative is fulfilled. It will open doors for more citizen representatives to enter the political arena.”
Not everyone is convinced, however. Dr. Fernando Casal Bertoa, a party politics expert at the University of Nottingham, opined, “The mixed electoral system will not strengthen Mongolia’s democratic governance. What Mongolia needs is more strong political parties, and more female parliamentarians, not less. And the mixed electoral system will not help to achieve these two major elements.”
The Mongolian government is supposed to soon introduce a separate proposal to “increase the representation of women in the parliament,” it said in a statement. But, Casal Bertoa warned, “It will be difficult to implement the electoral quota with mostly a majoritarian system.”
There are also concerns that unqualified candidates could be elected by getting prominent placement on party lists. In response, Oyun-Erdene replied that any party undertaking such behavior should lose the election.
Since Mongolia’s adoption of a democratic constitution in 1992, there have been few major amendments, in 1999, 2000, 2019, and in 2022. Some of the latest constitutional amendments addressed the balance of power between president and prime minister – limiting presidential power and limiting presidents to one six-year term (versus two four-year terms previously). The president in Mongolia is directly elected by the people.
The recent constitutional reform, especially when taken together with all the amendments since 2019, represents a tremendous political shift in Mongolia’s governance, political parties, and voting system. While political stability is fundamental for a government to govern, the people of Mongolia remain the roots of the country’s democracy. The next parliamentary election in 2024 will dictate how Mongolia will progress in the next five to ten years.