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Orderly election day and competitive campaign do not offset impact of late election law changes on Mongolia's democratic development, international observers say
Central Asia | analysis | 13:57, 30 June 2016 | 1241

AKIPRESS.COM - 249121 Election day in Mongolia was orderly and followed a competitive campaign. This, however, did not offset the impact of late fundamental changes to election laws on Mongolia’s democratic development, the international observers concluded in a preliminary statement released on June 30.

While the June 29 parliamentary elections were highly contested and freedoms of assembly and association were respected, restrictive campaign provisions, coupled with the media’s subservience to political interests, limited impartial and comprehensive information available to voters, the statement says.

“We were pleased to see that voting took place in a calm and peaceful manner. This was a genuinely competitive contest, with high turnout and no certainty as to which party would win. We applaud the fact Mongolia is a functioning democracy,” said Laima Liucija Andrikienė, Head of the European Parliament delegation. “There were, however, some elements which cause concern, including significant last-minute changes to the election laws, which, among other things, prevented 150,000 Mongolian citizens living outside the country, including diplomats, from voting.”

The observers said the consolidation of election legislation into a new law adopted on 25 December 2015, following an inclusive process, was a positive development toward establishing a cohesive electoral framework. However, changes in May 2016 – from a mixed electoral system to a solely majoritarian one, establishing 76 single-mandate constituencies and approving their boundaries – were introduced by parliament in a process that lacked transparency, public consultation and adherence to established criteria, the observers said. This resulted in profound population discrepancies among constituencies.

A total of 498 candidates, including 69 independents, was registered in a process that was largely inclusive and provided voters with a range of political choices. Contrary to OSCE commitments and other international obligations, however, there are disproportionate restrictions on candidacy rights the statement says. While there was general confidence in the accuracy and inclusiveness of the voting register, the May changes to the election laws also effectively disenfranchised 150,000 citizens living abroad for the parliamentary elections.

“For an election to be meaningful, voters first have to be offered a genuine choice, and voters were given that choice here. That choice also has to be between candidates competing on a level playing field and who have equal access to independent media to explain their platforms. In this, there is still work to do,” said Ambassador Audrey Glover, Head of the OSCE/ODIHR long-term election observation mission. “Elections are about voters, and the main problem for voters was understanding the significant last-minute changes to election laws, which affected the rules of the game profoundly and raised questions about political motivation.”

Despite undue campaign restrictions, the freedoms of assembly and association were respected and candidates were generally able to convey their messages to the electorate. At times the lines were blurred between parties and the administration at both the national and local levels, the observers said. There were multiple instances of alleged vote-buying, which resulted in a number of formal complaints and the deregistration of two candidates.

The GEC received some 50 pre-election complaints. Courts reviewed 21 cases regarding candidate registration, and the police handled more than 1,000 campaign-related complaints. Although legislation clarifies the complaints and appeals process to some extent, a general lack of formalization and transparency in the process within the election administration and the protracted handling of disputes in courts undermined the right to effective remedy.

The media offered extensive election coverage, but abandoned their journalistic role, for the most part simply granting direct access to the politicians. Paid political advertisements and free airtime overshadowed editorial content, and campaign material prepared by political parties was also included in news programming, undercutting the credibility of the media. Consequently, voters were deprived of independent and analytical reporting, the observers said.

In preparation for election day, the General Election Commission met key operational deadlines and fulfilled its mandate. At the same time, the observers said, it lacked transparency and accountability to stakeholders, diminishing trust in the credibility of the process. The testing of vote-counting machines was conducted professionally by the Commission in the presence of stakeholders and, to address concerns over the machines’ accuracy and integrity, the law was amended stipulate that up to 50 percent of polling stations would be subject to manual recounts. The procedures stipulating the manual re-count, however, were only finalized two days prior to the elections.

All parties and coalitions complied with the 20 percent gender quota provided for by law, and 26 percent of contestants were women. There were, however, no women candidates in more than one-third of the constituencies. While there is only one woman member of the General Election Commission, women were better represented in lower-level election commissions. Overall, women remain underrepresented in political life.

Election day proceeded in an orderly manner in most of the country and, while the right to vote was respected, the secrecy of the vote was not consistently ensured. The observers’ assessment of the counting and tabulation of votes was a notable exception to the overall positive assessment of voting, mostly as a result of significant procedural errors or omissions. A number of civil society organizations monitored the pre-election environment, including campaign finance and the media, and issued timely statements highlighting key shortcomings.

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