In a wide-ranging interview, former President N.Enkhbayar tells how he enjoys the freedom of not holding a public position and laments the coming together of the two major parties to share power, but not principles.

How do you spend time after being head of State?

I am as busy as ever. I do not hold a political office but I can in no way sever my links with politics. I have been Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament and President and am constantly being asked by media to express my opinion on political and economic events. It seems the people want to hear my views more than anybody else’s. So I cannot let go of politics.

I also keep busy by attracting investment, both foreign and domestic, for large projects. Another of my regular activities is to coordinate assistance to the poor in towns and the countryside through NGOs. One of them is New Path, which helps ger district residents, by offering better but low-cost living arrangements, creating jobs and providing vocational training. I also keep in active touch with leaders abroad whom I came to know when I held high positions.

Did you work hard during the damaging last winter?

I forgot to mention the NGO, Countryside Development Center, which was very active providing help during the calamity to herders in the worst affected aimags and soums. It contributed a lot to minimize losses.

How has all this work affected people’s attitude to you?

How people see you has little to do with what official position you hold. Common people always greet me with a warm smile on the streets. The trappings of office are fragile and do not have much value. It is what I stand for as an individual that makes for the permanent ties of affection between the ordinary people and me.

Are you then happy to have shed the chains of office and to be free?

I enjoy the freedom that I do not have give political speeches as a part of my duty to the Government or the party. This can be inhibiting at times. Now I can express my opinions freely.

Some, however, feel you do not want to leave the political limelight and manage to remain in public view with interviews. Do other politicians also react like this?  

I left office about 15 months ago and in all this time I have given four or five big interviews to newspapers, or about one in three months. Some would prefer me to be silent but there are others who want me to speak out when there is need. I have a duty to the nation, to give them fair warning that others are making mistakes and also to show them the right way. My only concern now is the greater truth, beyond partisan interests and gain.

The recent primary conference of the MPRP was marked by the absence of both you and S.Bayar.  What do you think of the conference and of the proposed new ideological thrust?

A party is a living organism and its lifeblood is its ideology. Changing that is likely to lead to death. I want the MPRP to be alive and strong and so I have warned against tampering with ideology and tradition. The party was once too leftist and made many mistakes such as being politically repressive. There were of course many historical reasons for this.

On the other hand the party spread literacy, provided good health care and led Mongolia to independence. These are the crucial achievements of the MPRP.  I see no reason to change our leftist stand, but the ideology should be kept moderate and not allowed to get extreme. Occupying the leftist space is vital to lead the country to a correct and bright future.

The DP has always been a rightist party. Unfortunately, the coalition has meant a dilution of both ideologies and neither party seems really alive any longer. This is the price we pay for entering into deals for short-term gain. Both parties decided to compromise on their basic concepts. When the coalition Government was formed I said I would support it only as long as it resolved complicated issues and fulfilled promises made to the people. After two years I find it has mostly been a trade deal for the gain of the parties, and not for furtherance of national interests, as was promised.

How would you support your charge?

Both the Oyutolgoi and the Tavantolgoi projects have been allowed to veer away from meeting national interests, to serve the interest of the coalition partners. I would prefer the left and the right to remain true to themselves and ask the people to choose between them. The people will ask one party to govern, and the responsibility of the other party will be to monitor the governance. This is how it should be in politics. We have gone for a market economy but for our politics we have chosen the one thing that has no place in it: monopoly. The two parties have established a monopoly in politics which has thus lost its essence. Development has suffered and only a few people have got rich. We do not recognize such monopoly hold in politics.

Just what do you mean?

The two parties in coalition have a monopoly over power and take all decision without fair debate, without any reference to the popular will. Options are not considered, and fair criticism is unwelcome.  

What is the way out?

I think both parties should stick to their own separate ways, principles and ideology.

But the two parties started coming closer in 1997, when you were the Leader of MPRP which was in the opposition. This gave MPRP members more power than usual in a minority group. Then again, when you were Speaker, the MPRP and the DP were very close, working almost in unison, very much like the present coalition. So you also wanted this monopoly?

You remember many old details. Let us see what the situation was. The MPRP had 25 seats in the 1996-2000 Parliament and could not force the Government to fall. Several DP MPs had to be against their own Government, so Enkhbayar alone could not do anything.  Numbers ceased to be of real importance, as the spirit and essence of democracy were on the retreat, and principles were being traded for profit and
position. Commercial links were forged to override political differences, factions gained in power, and politics was devalued.

This was also when S.Zorig was murdered and corruption was much talked about. I look back at those years as the most tragic and unfortunate period of our democracy. The MPRP was certainly not responsible for the decay in political morality but it is also true that it could not avoid the infection. In 2004 the two parties were almost equally placed and the MPRP cooperated with other parties. We had not got a majority in 2004 as people blamed MPRP and Enkhbayar for not giving the children money. Fortunately commodity prices rose and we seized the opportunity to distribute several welfare allowances. But 2008 was different. There was a clear majority and minority in Parliament, but still both parties entered into a coalition, only to grab a monopoly of power.

Is the MPRP planning to lean to the rightist ideology?

That will be a sure way of destroying the party. What will remain of a leftist party if it seeks people’s support for rightist ideology? It will be tantamount to establishing an altogether new party. We discussed reforms for which there is need, but members did not say the party should be disbanded and given a new color. We cannot abandon our traditional faith in social democracy and democratic-socialistic principles. This is the predominant view among members, no matter what some may say to the party leadership.

Was it a good idea to promise money to citizens?

DP promised children’s allowance in the 2004 elections and then MNT1 million for every citizen in 2008. MPRP was then compelled to announce MNT1.5 million for every citizen. Both the 2004 and 2008 elections were contested irresponsibly, with promises ousting policy. But once it was promised, the MNT1.5 million has to be given. There can be no question about it.

The State treasury would pay for the promise of a political party?

A promise is a promise and must be kept; otherwise people will lose faith in elections.

People blame you and S.Bayar for allowing the July 1 events get out of hand. Who was responsible?

It all began with Ts.Elbegdorj saying at a press conference that they were holding protest demonstrations against the “unfair” election results. Bayar said that the MPRP had won a clear victory and there was no justification for any demonstration. As President, I called both of them and urged that the demonstration should be dispersed and all issues relating to the election can be discussed. They agreed but could not pacify the people.  I realized they had failed and went on TV to call for an end to the demonstration and to settle differences through peaceful talks. The demonstrators did not disperse and Bayar kept urging me to declare an Emergency. At that point, the Police chief assured us they would be able to quell the protest peacefully and there was no need for an Emergency. All of us agreed.

At about 10 in the evening, security officials reported that they had failed to control the situation and we had no alternative to declaring an Emergency and force had to be used to get the situation under control. Unfortunately five citizens were killed and no individual has been found guilty.

I suspect the two parties had joined hands to organize the demonstration to keep the charges about the election alive. Those directly or indirectly involved do not like my saying this, but this is what I have concluded. Individual guilt and responsibility have to be ascertained. Since the time the coalition was formed people have been convinced of the complicity of both parties in the entire conspiracy.

You had wanted to contest the Parliament by-election from Chingeltei district last year, but the MPRP did not nominate you. Why did you cry foul against your own party’s decision?

Remember that I never said anything against the DP and Elbegdorj when I lost in the Presidential election. But the results offered enough grounds for suspicion. I would like a proper enquiry into how I lost in the six districts of Ulaanbaatar. We need such information so that the electoral process can be reformed. They did not want to nominate me for the Chingeltei seat because of their fear of losing control of the party when I won. Sometimes I cannot understand how MPRP leaders could act like this. But this is only to be expected when there is no idealism, no ideology.

What do you think of the moves to change the name and ideology of MPRP?

Returning to the original name of the Mongolian People’s Party is all right, but it should be considered much more widely.  When a similar demand had been made at the time I was leader of the party we said so.

Changing the ideological thrust is something else altogether. The MPRP must not abandon its leftist orientation.

Is there any other leftist party in Mongolia?

There is not. The Social Democrat Party had left leanings but is now part of the Democratic Party. The MPRP lost the 1996 elections because voters took its concept of a national democracy to be a shift to the right. This was a wrong perception but we had been unable to explain our stand. I lost the Presidential election in 2009 because of fraud and not because I stood for democratic socialistic ideas.