‘We Mongolians Are Resilient’

Mongolia's new president lays out his vision for the country.

2009.06.18
MONGOLIA-Tsakhia-Elbegdorj--305.jpg Mongolian president Elbegdorj Tsakhia, in a 2006 photo.
AFP

By Elbegdorj Tsakhia

Today, with great honor, I will place my right hand on our constitution, stand before the Mongolian Parliament, and take the presidential oath of office.

This ceremony, though short, is heavy with symbolism and is a demonstrable measure of our country’s success in linking democratic reforms to free market economics.

Within this solemn ceremony is the story of a country that, despite being landlocked between two great powers and facing difficult economic times, has reconfirmed a political process that guarantees freedom of speech, association, individual liberties, and the rule of law.

The May 24 presidential election featured everything a political observer would expect in a democratic, multiparty process. My opponent and I clashed over economic policy, the battle against corruption, the judicial system, the administration of justice, and most important: how Mongolia should open regions of the country to mining and how that revenue could be distributed for the betterment of the people.

As demanding and difficult as a presidential campaign is, the real work lies in governing and helping move the country ahead. The disastrous recession that has engulfed the major economies has hit my country hard.

For example, our unemployment rate has risen sharply from last year. The agricultural sector has faced sharp decreases in exports. Loss of income has forced many rural residents to move to Ulaanbaatar, our capital, in search of work.

However, we Mongolians are resilient, and our land does provide abundant natural resources. After years of discussion and debate, final proposals are taking shape detailing the public-private partnership that will be created to begin mining a vast copper deposit and coal vein.

The crash in commodity prices for both coal and copper means substantial reductions in the revenue that we were depending on for improving the welfare of our citizens, but it can provide a financial cushion once mining can begin.

Growing a middle class

How can Mongolia recover and compete economically? The answer lies in deepening our democratic roots and reaching out beyond our borders and increasing the integration of our country into the world economy. A little over a decade ago, the bulk of our trade was conducted between our bordering countries.

Today, more than 80 percent of our foreign trade is conducted with states that include China, the Russian Federation, United States, Britain, Japan, Canada, and South Korea. It is imperative that we increase these ties and expand this list of countries to include our neighbors in Southeast Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

The road back to prosperity in our country depends on reducing poverty, building a middle class, restraining government spending, continuing to fight corruption, and using technology to bring Mongolia to the world, and the world to Mongolia.

Reducing poverty begins with increasing access to education.

I will be working with parliament, educators, and parents on new approaches to ensure that Mongolians have the basic skills to become productive citizens. Breaking the cycle of poverty depends on an educated youth so they can open doors to greater opportunity.

Mongolia cannot be a land of haves and have-nots. We must grow a middle class in our country, and we can do this by putting in place economic policies that do not create artificial growth through massive government spending. We need policies that welcome foreign investment and promote domestic reinvestment that can add value to our exports and create well-paying jobs. Central to this is a political and judicial system that is open and transparent.

Mongolians are changing the way they live and work thanks to the Internet and technology. It is not uncommon to see a herdsman with a satellite dish outside of a ger (our traditional dwelling). This technology is a powerful force that allows my countrymen to bring their products and services to foreign markets, and also allows foreign markets to find us.

The one key thread that will tie growth and prosperity together is our democracy. For a country to take advantage of its greatest resource—its human potential—I believe there must be freedom of thought and freedom of expression that can aggressively challenge and question economic and political institutions.

This will ensure that our country is a melting pot of progressive and new ideas that makes Mongolia unique to our region.

I am humbled and honored by my countrymen’s decision to elect me president, and I will be a representative of all Mongolians regardless of political affiliation. I am confident that, with collaboration between government and our people, great days for Mongolia lie ahead.

The author was sworn in June 18, 2009, as president of Mongolia.

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