Mongolian Woman MP Takes Aim at Corruption


2005.04.25
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ULAN BATAAR, Mongolia—Sanjaasuren Oyun, one of only five women in Mongolia’s 76-seat parliament, says her schedule is now so demanding that her karate black belt is gathering dust at home. These days, her hardest punches are aimed at widespread corruption that she says is taking a heavy toll on Mongolia.

Oyun, 40, argues that it’s essential for more Mongolian women to get into politics and business and fight corruption in every form, from bribery to embezzlement.

"Women can be very helpful in the fight against corruption," she said in an interview here, citing a World Bank study that shows that "the greater the involvement of women in politics, the less corruption there is."

In Mongolia, she said, "This is particularly true," because women are entering politics “more out of a sense of duty and responsibility” than for any other reason, such as political ambition.

Adding teeth to anti-graft laws

Mongolian MPs passed an Anti-Corruption Law in 1996, but critics say it remains little more than a manifesto without enforcement mechanisms or stipulated procedures for identifying and prosecuting corruption.

Women can be very helpful in the fight against corruption.

Oyun has led efforts to back up legal language with force.

Mongolia’s prime minister, Elbegdorj Tsakhia, told RFA last month he believes her efforts would result in a vote soon. He supported Oyun’s appointment as head of a parliamentary anti-corruption working group, now drafting new legislation.

The issue is certainly higher on the agenda these days among Mongolia’s elite. Opening the spring session of parliament April 8, Prime Minister Elbegdorj Tsakhia declared a war on corruption. "We will identify the causes and then bulldoze the corruption!" he said in a speech.

Discarding seven decades of Stalinism, Mongolia has emerged since 1990 as a more open and democratic country. But when it comes to jobs, health care, and political participation, however, Mongolian women lag behind men.

Increasingly, women in this vast, sparsely populated country are subject to domestic violence and sexual harassment, experts say.

Trafficking in women has emerged as a problem—with a few Mongolian women turning up in brothels as far away as the former Portuguese enclave of Macau.

To Cambridge and back with a Ph.D.

Oyun and her party, Citizens’ Will, were the first to adopt a quota—30 percent—for women running for office and serving in the party’s national committee

Seven years ago, Oyun left a highly-paid job as a geologist with a London-based mining company, Rio Tinto Mining & Exploration Ltd., after the murder of her brother, democracy-minded politician Sanjaasuren Zorig, on the eve of his appointment as Mongolia’s new prime minister.

We will identify the causes and then bulldoze the corruption.

Political opponents are widely believed to have ordered the killing, but no one has yet been arrested or tried in connection with his death.

Oyun decided to enter politics to carry on her brother’s plans for political and economic reform.

Oyun was the first Mongolian to earn a Ph. D. from Cambridge University in England, specifically in isotope geochemistry. She holds a black belt in karate ( san dan ).

According to the book “Top 100 Mongolian Women,” Oyun finds solace in reading the Dalai Lama’s thoughts about compassion and the meaning of life.

The current prime minister, Elbegdorj, regards Oyun as among the country’s "most vocal proponents of good governance and democratic, transparent processes."

She and her party, he says, have contributed to a change in Mongolian thinking on those issues.

In a 2003 article published by the online magazine Slate , Andrew McLaughlin wrote that Oyun seems to be a "good bet" at some point to become Mongolia’s first female prime minister.

McLaughlin, a senior fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University Law School, has worked in Mongolia on Internet and technology policy issues.

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