In 2009 a mining project was financed by a resource organization and the Mongolian government. The goal was to excavate the gold and copper in the area so as to benefit both parties. The finance minister at the time of the deal was Bayartsogt Sangajav, who is now under investigation regarding potential financial misconduct during the initiation of the project. He is accused of having wired and collected $10 million corresponding to the project in the year 2008, when he became prime minister.
Currently, a Swiss run investigation is taking place regarding the account and the money, to which Sangajav expressed his happiness. We can probably speculate that he isn’t truly happy that he is being investigated, and that those words are an attempt to appear nonchalant and unworried. The investigation has not been concluded, but Sangajav also commented that he feels he will be exonerated from the charges.
Mongolia’s democracy is said to be eroding, and this incident might offer an explanation as to why. Even though the investigation has yet to be finished, it would come as no surprise if the former finance minister was in fact exonerated. Political officials today, not just in the United States, seem to get more of a pass when it comes to conviction. There is a sense among law enforcement that political elites are above the law because they make the laws. If the finance minister were to be exonerated, it would not be the only indication of corruptness that this incident provides.
Sangajav stated that he was happy the Swiss were conducting the investigation because it would be ineffective for the Mongolian government to do so. He attributed this to the lack of trust displayed within the government. It is difficult for democracy to work effectively when ideological differences stand in the way progress.
In order to describe why both the accusation and the mistrust fuel an eroding democracy, it might be helpful to relate it to American politics, which is of more familiarity. There have been numerous incidents involving sexual misconduct in the government over the past few months. Republican senators, Roy Moore, and even the President have come under fire from the public and the media for alleged misconduct. The lack of accountability that is forced on these officials is also questioned, as many have settled out of court, with some incidents even being thrown under the rug. The fact that the media and the public have the ability to openly criticize these officials seems to strengthen the ideals of democracy, however an equal and fair justice system is characteristic of democracy. When certain individuals are not properly held accountable, the democracy suffers.
If this were to end up being the case with Sangajav, the already corrupt Mongolian government would only be harming their democratic legitimacy. To add to that, the mistrust that exists within the government only opens the door for a slow and inefficient legislative process. This does not sound anti-democratic necessarily, as it avoids infringing on citizens’ rights and the electoral process, but mistrust is often because of a perception of corruptness one side has of the other. This corruption could include kickbacks for promoting certain issues, or elites trying to buy votes. When this occurs, the opposition is more likely to begin behaving the same way to level the playing field, as persecution for these wrongdoings is unlikely.
If both sides are then attempting to pass legislation by means that are a bit shady, the democracy will once again suffer. A government that creates legislation through honest and proper means is a purer form of democracy.
Even though that seems like a proper assumption, democratic erosion is not necessarily characterized by how corrupt the government is. So why does it explain why experts see backslide in Mongolia. This is because the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) database indicates judicial fairness and government corruption as markers for assessing the strength of a particular democracy. This database is extremely comprehensive with a large number of indicators used to determine the quality of a certain country’s democracy. It is reasonable to assume that the V-Dem database made sure that the markers of democracy they used were accurate, which makes judicial fairness and government corruption legitimate indicators of democratic erosion.
How much they contribute can be left up to the database, but the idea that they are at least influential is what’s important. The accusations against the former finance minister does not explain the democratic erosion in Mongolia in its entirety, but it is helpful in understanding why experts say that even nine years after the incident occurred, the democracy is getting worse. If Sangajav is ultimately not convicted and did in fact collect $10 million from the mining project, it would certainly taint the Mongolian democracy. What seems to enhance that potential erosion is the admitted mistrust within the government, where a foreign government is conducting an investigation because the state where the incident occurred is to corrupt to handle it properly themselves. This is evidence that backslide is occurring with or without the Sangajav judgement.