Former Mongolian President Enkhbayar Nambar said he has been deemed ineligible to stand in this month’s parliamentary elections, in the latest setback to his attempted political comeback at a time when fresh questions are being asked about the nation’s democratic foundations.
In an interview Thursday, Mr. Enkhbayar said the General Election Commission of Mongolia informed him it wouldn’t accept his application to participate in the June 28 election due to a pending corruption case against him and after consultation with state prosecutors. Mr. Enkhbayar, who served as president from 2005 until 2009, denies the corruption allegations and said he intends to challenge the commission’s decision.
Messages left with the commission weren’t returned.
Proceedings are scheduled to resume next week at district court in Ulan Bator over allegations by Mongolia’s Independent Authority Against Corruption that Mr. Enkhbayar profited illegally while in office. The twice-postponed case against Mr. Enkhbayar, who was arrested in April, involves alleged wrongdoing dating back as much as a decade.
Competing narratives about the merits of the case ahead of the elections underscore the frequently chaotic nature of Mongolian politics.
Supporters of Mr. Enkhbayar say he is a standard-bearer for democracy in the country, and that the allegations against him were cooked up by sitting politicians who see his comeback as a threat to their own positions. Mr. Enkhbayar’s critics say he embodies the corruption bedeviling the country’s political system, and that his return to politics is a cynical bid to avoid prosecution. Members of Parliament are granted immunity.
At stake in the election, candidates and analysts say, is vast mineral wealth that is quickly transforming the nomadic nation. In recent interviews and statements, politicians from major parties, including Mr. Enkhbayar, voice determination to ensure that coal and copper mining end Mongolian poverty, not enrich powerful insiders and foreign interests such as giant miner Rio Tinto RIO.AU +0.31% PLC and the Chinese government.
In populist pre-election actions, Parliament last month passed a law limiting foreign investment in Mongolia. In recent days, government officials have circulated plans to cap the number of mine licenses. Yet politicians also say few decisions are permanent and policies can be reconsidered after the June legislative election and next year’s presidential vote.
Polls indicate the 76-member Parliament is up for grabs between the factionalized major parties: the Democratic Party that produced the current president, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, and the prime minister’s Mongolian People’s Party.
Mr. Enkhbayar, who turned 55 this month, broke away from the prime minister’s party to form one of his own. He has repeatedly denied charges of corruption and says he is a victim of a campaign by the current administration to keep him from returning to power.
“This invented case against me is very much politically motivated…to prevent me from running in the election campaign,” he said Thursday. Also deemed ineligible were a handful of Mr. Enkhbayar’s fellow party members, including one of his sons.
Mr. Enkhbayar says winning a parliamentary seat would position him to challenge the incumbent Mr. Elbegdorj in next year’s presidential election. That would be a rematch of the 2009 vote, won by Mr. Elbegdorj.
Last month, Mr. Enkhbayar won widespread international sympathy, including from the U.S., United Nations and European Union, as he undertook a hunger strike to protest his jailing and manhandling by police during his arrest. He was released on bail late last month but says his health remains frail.
Mr. Enkhbayar has been scorned online, including in a widely read 8,000-word screed dubbed “Spider Web.”
President Elbegdorj, who’s not a candidate in the parliamentary election, has published lengthy statements underscoring his commitment to democracy and fighting corruption. If his Democratic Party manages to win parliament from the Mongolian People’s Party—for the first time—one of its more-powerful members, Khaltmaa Battulga, stands to gain prominence. A member of Parliament since 2004, Mr. Battulga has had responsibilities that include transportation infrastructure and urban development.
In a recent interview, Mr. Battulga said mines and China are his two big concerns.
“We will define how we are going to use the mining resources,” he said through an interpreter. The challenge, he said “not to be dependent on one market”—a reference to China.
As for the former president, he said, Mr. Enkhbayar “had all the chances to develop the economy. He planted the seeds of the corruption.”
Source: Wall Street Journal