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Democratic Centralism

Under the guidance of early party leaders Horloyn Choybalsan and Yumjaagiyn Tsedenbal, the principle of democratic centralism was weighted heavily toward its centralizing features, just as it was being applied in the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. Purges, reprisals, and political violence in Mongolia mirrored the arbitrary behavior of Stalin. Choybalsan directed his attacks against political foes, rivals, and religious institutions. After Choybalsan's death in 1952 and Tsedenbal's emergence as the top party and government leader, Mongolian politics again followed the Soviet example. Starting in 1956, Tsedenbal initiated an extensive anti-Stalinist, anti-Choybalsan campaign, accusing the party leader of having conducted a "cult of personality" like Stalin.

In 1989, in the latest mirroring of Soviet politics, observers concluded that the democratic aspects of democratic centralism were beginning to play an enhanced role in Mongolian politics. Highly personalized and centralized politics were giving way to increased involvement by more democratic or representative sectors. Party general secretary Batmonh, speaking before the important fifth plenary session of the Central Committee held December 21-22, 1988, emphasized the need for "renewal" of the Mongolian sociopolitical system by "democratizing the party's inner life." Just before the plenary session, in November 1988, Batmonh pointed to the poor performance of the Mongolian economy even under the policies of "renewal," or Soviet-style restructuring. He gave as reasons for this condition a lack of vitality in the Mongolian political system, which, he said, could be remedied only by a more open and free social and political system.

At the December 1988 plenary session, which focused on reform of the political system, Batmonh spoke at length on the Mongolian equivalent of glasnost and perestroika and, for the first time, identified by name his predecessor, Tsedenbal, with the social, economic, and political problems that plagued Mongolia. In addition, Batmonh linked Tsedenbal's shortcomings with the "serious damage" that the personality cult of Choybalsan had caused and charged that "democracy was restricted and the administrative-command method of management took the upper hand."

Probably with a view to containing the political impact of these provocative statements, Batmonh urged the leadership to recognize these mistakes in leadership in a positive and instructive way. He also laid out the new political course by emphasizing that "a key point to the transformation and renewal" was recognition of the importance of the various levels of assemblies of people's deputies. He said the assemblies' deputies embodied the institutional expression of self-government now regarded as essential to the efficient and effective functioning of the political system. In addition to stressing the importance of these representative bodies, Batmonh exhorted several key mass organizations, particularly the trade unions and the Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League, to play a more active role in "perfecting organizational renewal" by becoming more vocal about issues and more involved in reform programs. Accordingly, democratic reform was to be carried out at all levels - in central and local government bodies, as well as in party, state, and mass organizations. The assemblies of people's deputies and all mass organizations were to be made responsible for "perfecting" the government system by engaging in free dialogue and in criticism and debate of reform issues and programs.

This speech by Batmonh set the agenda for further party action. The fifth plenary session concluded with the Central Committee's adoption of a seven-point resolution espousing the democratization of the political system. Batmonh discussed the major party reforms involved during an interview reported in the March 1989 issue of the Soviet periodical, New Times. They included: reducing the size of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party membership and giving priority to the primary party organization, the point of contact with the Mongolian population; setting a fixed five-year term of office for elected party bodies, from the Central Committee to the district party committee, and limiting the opportunity to be reelected to one further consecutive term; holding party conferences every two to three years, with the partial - up to 25 percent - replacement of members of party committees; and conducting Political Bureau and Secretariat elections by secret ballot. In general, these party reforms were to contribute to a rejuvenation of party leadership and to democratize internal party politics.

Batmonh revealed that government reforms being proposed at the fifth plenary session were to emphasize the People's Great Hural and assemblies of people's deputies as the "political basis of the state." He said that a distinction would be more clearly drawn between the functions of party and state organizations. Briefly, party organizations were to make policy decisions, the results of which were to be managed and implemented through government representative bodies. Major government reforms included reducing and streamlining the government bureaucracy; limiting the term in office in any of the representative assemblies to five years, with only one opportunity for reelection; nominating several candidates for an office; and discussing candidate qualifications freely. Following up on the fifth plenary session's initiatives, the Political Bureau proposed developing revisions to both the Party Program and the state Constitution to reflect Batmonh's concerns. In February 1989, a commission was formed to begin drafting a new edition of the state Constitution, to be presented for national discussion by December 1989. Addressing its first meeting, Batmonh asserted that "implementation of restructuring in the country was impossible without perfecting its existing laws, and this matter should be started with a new edition of the . . . Constitution." In addition, a new body was being planned, the Commission for Constitutional Control, to improve adherence to the Constitution. Revisions of the Rules of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party and to the Party Program were to be ready for the Twentieth Party Congress planned for 1991.

In large measure, Batmonh's efforts to emphasize and to strengthen the democratic features in the political system reflected his responsiveness to precedents set in Moscow. Nevertheless, if implemented, these reforms may have at least the short-term effect of opening debate and allowing more discussion of pressing local issues, a development that might improve the quality of life for Mongolians. Over the long term, the permanence of these "democratic" policies was likely to be related closely to the success or the failure of the ongoing economic programs.

Batmonh's professional background fits neatly into the mold of the senior Mongolian political leader. He was born in 1926 in Hyargas Somon, Uvs Aymag, in western Mongolia, reportedly to a peasant family of herdsmen. Like his predecessor, Tsedenbal, Batmonh was educated in the Soviet Union, at the Academy of Social Sciences. Typical of past and present members of the party Political Bureau, Batmonh has a strong economic-technical background. He studied at the Mongolian State University, and in the late 1960s he was rector of the Higher School of Economics. From 1963 to 1973, he was vice rector and then rector of the Mongolian State University. Batmonh's political ascent was rapid and remarkable. While serving as head of the Central Committee's Department of Science and Education, he became chairman of the Council of Ministers in June 1974, without first being elected to Political Bureau membership. At that time, he was only a candidate member of the Central Committee. By December 1984, Batmonh was concurrently the party's general secretary, having replaced Tsedenbal in August, and chairman of the Presidium of the People's Great Hural. He thus had control over, and access to, the two governing bureaucracies, securing his place at the center of the political system.

Sodnom was the second most prominent leader in Mongolia in the late 1980s. Born in 1933 in Orgon Somon, Dornogovi Aymag, Sodnom graduated from the Finance and Economics Technical School in Ulaanbaatar and the Finance and Economics Institute in Irkutsk, Soviet Union. His professional career concentrated on economics and planning. From 1963 to 1969, Sodnom was minister of finance; by 1974 he was chairman of the State Planning Commission. He became a full Political Bureau member and chairman of the Council of Ministers (premier) in December 1984, succeeding Batmonh.

The backgrounds of others serving on the Political Bureau in 1989 were mixed, but they shared a notable emphasis on economics and state-planning experience. Demchigjabyn Molomjamts, perhaps the third most influential leader, was minister of finance and concurrently held key state planning positions. Altangerel was concurrently the first deputy premier. Colonel General Jamsrangiyn Dejid a former minister of public security, was concurrently a party secretary. Namsray, a former aide to Tsedenbal and a journalist, was elected to the Political Bureau in June 1984, just before Tsedenbal's retirement in August. Candidate Political Bureau members Bandzragchiyn Lamjab and Sonomyn Lubsangombo represented different, but critical, career specialties. Lamjab concurrently served as chairman of the Party Control Commission. Lubsangombo, an urban development specialist, was chairman of the State Building Commission and deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers (or, deputy premier).

Last Update: 2010-12-07