7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies Showcases Mongolia’s Democratic Transition
May 1, 2013
Against the background of Mongolia’s famous blue sky, around 1,215 delegates from 104 countries gathered in Ulaanbaatar to participate in the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies (CD) from April 27- 29, 2013, organized under Mongolia’s Presidency of the CD, which started in July 2011.
After an opening ceremony on April 27 led by Mongolian Prime Minister N. Altankhuyag, who highlighted the country’s democratic achievements and a group picture in front of the Chinggis Khaan statue at Sukhbaatar square, participants broke off to attend the fora of the five CD pillars: Civil Society, Youth, Parliamentary, Women, and Business. The Asia Foundation, through the USAID-funded “Supporting Mongolia’s Presidency of the Community of Democracies” Project, provided assistance to both the Parliamentary and Women’s forums.
At the joint meeting on the final day, chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia, President Tsakhia Elbegdorj spoke of his country’s long road to democracy as well as how new democratic practices such as direct democracy and citizen participation increasingly are gaining momentum in Mongolia. He reiterated Mongolia’s role as a friend and its willingness to assist other countries that are transitioning to democracy. Thailand’s Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, spoke about the democratic struggles that her country has undergone and emphasized that these are not yet over, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi expressed her gratitude for the support of the international community to the people of Burma in their fight for democracy, emphasizing that Burma has made the choice to transition towards democracy but still has a long way to go to become a full-fledged democracy. She also reminded that democracy brings with it not only rights, but also responsibilities and should be seen as a continuous learning process. She was later presented with the Geremek award in remembrance of the late Professor Bronislaw Geremek, one of the co-founders of the CD. Other speakers included Nobel Prize Laureate Tawakkol Karman from Yemen, UN Under-Secretary General, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Bill Burns, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security, Baroness Catherine Ashton, and the Vice President of Nigeria, Namadi Sambo.
During a plenary session on “Threats against Civil Society and Freedom of Expression,” several speakers outlined the worrisome trend by which many governments around the world are imposing restrictions on civil society and the use of internet. Parallel thematic sessions were held on “Democracy Education,” “Corruption and other Threats to Democracy,” “Arab Spring after 2 Years: Lessons and Challenges,” “Democracy and the MDGs,” and “Online and Press Freedom.”
The Parliamentary Forum for Democracy (PFD) provided a space for legislators to share their experiences and best practices. This is just what a legislator from Libya was seeking. He noted how during the country’s recent revolution, freedom was the only concern; now his fellow parliamentarians face the harder challenge of building institutions and practices in line with the democratic values he and his fellow citizens fought for.
This year’s PFD focused on the debilitating effects of corruption. Legislators heard how corruption is a complex issue, resulting from weaknesses in laws, regulations, monitoring, enforcement, deterrence, institutions, and the political will to address it. Participants created a five-point plan for parliamentarians to address corruption:
- An anti-corruption paradigm shift to place more emphasis on the outcomes and results of anti-corruption efforts rather than focusing on the laws and institutions that address anti-corruption;
- Coalition strengthening among parliamentary and anti-corruption networks;
- Peer-to-peer review by parliamentarians across countries to allow for informal comment and positive advice on how a state can improve its anti-corruption efforts;
- Ensuring access to information legislation allows for citizen monitoring of all aspects of government income and expenditure; and
- Ending secrecy clauses in government-private sector contracts.
The Women’s Forum, organized by the Women’s Caucus of Parliamentarians, the National Committee on Gender Equality and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, focused this year on the challenges women face in political representation at the national and local level, challenges still common in many of the countries represented. Parallel sessions on “Democracy and Women’s Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment,” “Women’s Role in Preventing Corruption and Promoting Transparency,” “Democratizing and Engendering Culture,” and “Stronger Systems, Institutions and Processes for Stronger Voices” provided a platform for further discussion on women’s positive role in addressing issues such as poverty, human rights violations, conflicts, and corruption.
The forum developed a statement calling for action by the members of the CD in four key areas:
- Endorsing women’s property rights, ensuring access to finance, and ensuring equal wages, as well as recognition of unpaid work;
- Increasing research and independent monitoring of the impact of corruption using a gender lens, and strengthening of women’s anti-corruption networks;
- Creation of a culture of gender equality, free from gender-based stereotypes and gender-based violence in all sectors of society, including media, education, and domestic life; and
- Increasing and honoring gender quotas for elected and nominated positions within national and local governments and political parties, and actions to ensure fair financing of political campaigns of women and men in part through campaign finance and political party reform, including political party financing.
After the fora, plenary sessions were held on “Harnessing Open Governance for Democracy,” “Supporting Democratic Transitions: Insights from the CD Task Forces in Moldova and Tunisia and Lessons for Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan,” and “Women and Democracy.” At the closing session, representatives of each of the five pillars of the Community of Democracies presented the resolutions prepared during the different fora and the Ulaanbaatar Declaration of the CD was adopted. Mongolia also handed over its presidency of the CD to El Salvador, which will assume leadership on July 1, 2013.
Mongolia can look back at a very successful presidency over the last two years, during which it gave new impetus to the CD and was able to make significant progress in the priority areas of its presidency. The 7th Ministerial Conference provided an opportunity to showcase to the world the important progress Mongolia has made since its democratic transition in 1990 and share important lessons learned with current and aspiring democracies around the world.
Watch a new video, developed by The Asia Foundation, that features interviews with Mongolians across the country on what democracy means for them, how democracy has developed since Mongolia’s democratic transition, and views on the CD. The video has been produced in support of Mongolia’s Presidency of the CD through funding from the Embassy of the United States in Mongolia. The Asia Foundation was the first international nonprofit organization to be invited into Mongolia following the democratic transition in 1990. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Foundation in Mongolia since it opened its office on October 1, 1993.
Meloney C. Lindberg is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Mongolia, Jeremy Gross is a Foundation consultant based in Indonesia who has worked in Mongolia to support the Ministerial Conference, and Tirza Theunissen is the program and operations manager. They can be reached at [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected], respectively.
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