The U.S. and other Western democracies have spent the better part of the last decade pushing for democratization across the globe. We have intervened in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and supported countless other efforts with aid and ideas to press democratic ideals for the disenfranchised and oppressed.
While this is undoubtedly a worthy cause, there are still instances when even democratic nations need our attention. What is currently happening in Mongolia is a sharp reminder that we cannot ignore nations that are burgeoning democracies who suffer from crippling democracy deficits.
Former Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar is due to stand trial today on charges of corruption and of misusing property and government powers. He was arrested in a televised dawn raid in April where viewers saw Mr. Enkhbayar shoved into a van with a sack over his head. The charges, he says, are a complete fabrication.
Mr. Enkhbayar reports he was never questioned in prison and after two weeks he was charged. In response, he began a hunger strike, attracting support from Amnesty International which has taken up his case and asserted that his detention “appears to be arbitrary.” He is still recuperating from the 11-day hunger strike that doctors say could have killed him.
The reason for all this? Mr. Enkhbayar argues the authorities want to keep him out of parliamentary elections on June 28th. The current president, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, won his seat in 2009 from Enkhbayar and under his watch corruption has become an increasing issue – Mongolia has moved from about 90 to 120 of 183 countries included in Transparency International’s annual corruption index.
On his situation, Mr. Enkhbayar said “In all countries where the political opponents are removed from contesting, the leaders of the country use corruption as an excuse.” If his Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party won parliamentary seats in the upcoming election they would have the right to nominate a presidential candidate in 2013, a reality that Mr. Enkhbayar argues President Elbegdorj is trying to avoid.
We cannot let this corruption trial sideline Mr. Enkhbayar for the parliamentary elections. We stand for free and fair elections and unequivocally against selective prosecutions. His case must be carried out in full accordance with basic democratic principles of fairness and transparency.
The West has praised Mongolia for its transition to democracy in the past. There must therefore be a coordinated international response to ensure that the current Mongolian government allows Mr. Enkhbayar to run in their parliamentary elections later this month. Anything less would be negligent on our part and a case of selective enforcement of our stated principles.
Mongolia also holds special strategic and economic importance. It is sandwiched between Russia and China, a crucial location. Mongolia can also have a bright future as an exporter (Mongolia is rich in gold, copper, and coal). There is also the possibility of it becoming an energy supplier in its own right.
Therefore, we cannot let Mongolia, or any democratic nation for that matter, backslide to authoritarian or extra-legal policies and governing approaches. As I’ve said, we stand for democracy and freedom in all instances. We must demonstrate this not just in transitioning nations, but also in those that are established democracies and showing signs of waning.