Mongolia’s Election is Marred by Violence
July 2, 2008
Just after noon on July 1st, hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Sukhbaatar square in central Ulaanbatar to protest the June 29th election results, which they alleged were fraudulent. Throughout the afternoon, the demonstration grew in size to more than 8,000, and then erupted into violence around 7pm.
36 hours after the polls closed, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) led the balloting by a significant margin. Opposition parties, including the Democratic Party and the newly-formed Citizen’s Union, launched the gathering and encouraged citizens to stand up for justice and for free and fair elections. They demanded a recount in districts where malfeasance was said to have occurred. But the demonstration spiraled wildly out of control in the early evening, and was uncontained by police wearing riot gear.
The Democratic Party leader Elbegdorj called the election unfair and tainted, saying he would not accept the projected outcome, which had the MPRP winning as many as 43 of the 76 seats in the State Great Hural (parliament). Holding a microphone, Elbegorj addressed the crowd and said that the election threatened to undo Mongolian democracy. At the same time that he spoke, 200 meters away the crowd became increasingly violent and began hurling stones at the MPRP headquarters. Demonstrators broke windows and threw Molotov cocktail inside, igniting a blaze that burned out of control for hours, threatening the Ulaanbaatar Hotel located immediately to the east, where many foreigners, including international election monitors, were staying.
The local press described the mob as young men between the ages of 20 and 35. Some observers said that the men were drunk. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd, which did not disperse. Police in riot gear were dramatically outnumbered. Five people were killed in the melee, and more than 220 were injured. The police took an estimated 700 people into custody.
President Enkhbayar called a meeting of all party heads at approximately 9pm, several hours after the violence had begun. Prime Minister and MPRP head, S. Bayar, and Democratic Party leader, Ts. Elbegdorj, exchanged sharp words. Elbegdorj accused the MPRP of vote-rigging and fraud. Bayar countered by accusing Elbegdorj of inciting the violence that resulted in the burning of the MPRP headquarters, which he repeated in statements on Wednesday. According to independent party candidate, J. Zanaa, “the leaders of the Civic Movement Party and other opposition party leaders played a key role in the instigation of the violent confrontation by leading the voters to attack the MPRP building.”
Near midnight Tuesday, the president imposed a state of emergency, effective immediately. Military was mobilized to protect all public buildings and a curfew was imposed from 10:00 PM to 8:00 AM. Nonetheless, after midnight, the violence spread beyond the area comprising the MPRP headquarters. A crowd moved north from the MPRP headquarters, burning cars and looting buildings as they went. The crowd headed towards the Sukhbaatar Police station, located approximately 2 blocks north of the square, where more shots and tear gas were fired by approximately 50 riot police.
Mongolia has previously held four parliamentary elections, all of which were peaceful, free, and fair. The violence that erupted on July 1st had never before been experienced. The sentiment among older Mongolians was of sadness and disappointment. “The Mongolian people are victims of the two parties,” said one observer on Subkhbaatar Square.
On Election Day, The Asia Foundation mobilized 17 two-person teams of election observers that monitored 196 polling places. Other international observation efforts included 28 teams deployed by locally-based embassies and international non-governmental organizations, and 9 international teams deployed under the aegis of the Asia-Pacific Democracy Partnership. A total of 56 teams observed the opening of the poll, the polling process, and some of the vote-counting process in polling stations across the Mongolia. The largest concentration of observers monitored in Ulaanbaatar and neighboring districts.
According to Asia Foundation data gathered from the polling site visits, the environment outside the polling stations was largely untainted by party interference, and nearly all partisan campaign materials had been removed, in accordance with the election rules. Necessary election-related materials were available at all polling stations, and the polls opened on or very close to schedule. Empty ballot boxes were shown to observers, before being sealed. Up to 14 party observers were present at each of the polling sites, and they represented the spectrum of parties competing in the election. While at the polling stations, no incidence of malfeasance of irregularity was reported by any of the teams.
William Foerderer Infante is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Mongolia. To read his recent comments on this unusual episode of violence in Mongolia on CNN.com, click here, and in the Los Angeles Times, click here. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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