Inside Story

How corrupt is Mongolia?

As voters elect a new government we ask if it can properly manage the massive wealth from the country’s mining boom.

Mongolians have cast their votes on Thursday to elect a new parliament, and the next government.

The mining wealth is not distributed to everybody well there is of course resentment and people not happy. But people are aware that it is because we don’t have good public governance… people can go against [parliament] because this is a democratic country.”

– Jargalsaikhan Dambadarjaa, a Mongolian columnist

One-third of the country’s three million people live below the poverty line, and many say they haven’t seen any benefit from the rapid economic growth.

At stake in the election was the issue of spreading the wealth of the country’s mining boom. The money is rolling in but the people remain poor.

Mongolia is wedged between China and Russia, and has massive deposits of coal, copper, gold and uranium.

The government estimates its mineral reserves to be worth $1.2 trillion.

The country’s economy grew by 17.3 per cent last year, one of the fastest-growing in the world. Its foreign direct investment stands at around $5bn.

One of the main worry for China is the possible rise of a pan-Mongolian kind of nationalism because that would give rise to sentiments uniting the Inner Mongolia with Mongolia, and even with certain Mongolian region in Russia.”

– Andrew Leung, economist/political commentator

And overshadowing everything is the blight of corruption, which poses the biggest danger to Mongolia’s future.

In admitting this Elbegdorj Thakia, the Mongolian president, told Al Jazeera: “Corruption is a big problem, because of corruption, because of bad governance I think most of the emerging societies are failing and failed. We [don’t] want to repeat that.”

Inside Story asks: How is the Mongolian government going to handle its booming economy? And what is it going to do about its rampant corruption?

Joining presenter Shiulie Ghosh for the discussion are guests: Jargalsaikhan Dambadarjaa, a Mongolian columnist, TV host, economist and management consultant; Andrew Leung, an economist and political commentator, and the former Hong Kong government representative to the UK; and David Sneath, the director of studies in Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, and former director of the university’s Mongolia and Inner Asia study unit.

“The idea of corruption or underhand dealings of elites feathering their own nests, this has made social justice a really central issue in this election campaign…the Mongolian public are waiting to be convinced.”

David Sneath, a professor at the University of Cambridge


  • The elections on June 28 will be the seventh since Mongolia ended 70 years of communist rule in 1990. Voters will choose between the ruling Mongolia People’s Party and the opposition Democratic Party. Voter turnout is expected to be more than 80 per cent.
  • But its democracy is threatened by high levels of corruption. Mongolia ranked 120 out of 183 countries on the Transparency International’s 2011 corruption perceptions index.
  • Nambaryn Enkhbayar, the former Mongolian president, was arrested in April over suspected corruption but was later released following international pressure. He left the ruling MPP to form his own party, and was barred from running in this election.