US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday urged Asian nations still loathe to embrace democracy to look to the example set by some emerging countries, praising Mongolia as a model.
Arriving from Tokyo as part of a whirlwind regional tour, Clinton told an international women’s forum she had long “been inspired by the Mongolian people’s commitment to democracy.”
“This is the right time to talk about democracy in Asia, as many countries in this region grapple with the question of which model of governance best suits their society and circumstances,” she said.
“If you want to see democracy in action, if you want to see progress being shaped by leaders who are more concerned about lifting up their people than fattening their bank accounts, come to Mongolia,” she said.
The country, sandwiched between Russia and China, ended seven decades of Soviet-backed rule in 1990 and has since undergone a relatively peaceful and successful transition into a stable democracy.
However, corruption is generally recognized as a major problem in Mongolian politics and disputes over the previous parliamentary elections in 2008 triggered riots that left four people dead.
Mongolian politicians are also currently locked in a dispute over last month’s parliamentary elections, after official results showed the opposition Democratic Party won the most seats, but not enough for a majority.
Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj urged all parties to work together to form a ruling coalition, but some parties allege that a new automated voting system used to elect the Great Hural, Mongolia’s 76-member parliament, failed.
Clinton only briefly touched on corruption — even though Transparency International ranks Mongolia 120 out of 182 countries surveyed on its Corruption Perceptions Index — the same ranking as Iran, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.
Julian Dierkes, an expert on Mongolia from the University of British Columbia’s Institute of Asian Research, warned in the Wall Street Journal recently that corruption was placing the legitimacy of last month’s elections at risk.
Clinton hailed recent laws such as those on freedom of information, stressing Mongolia deserved support as it worked to “hold fair elections, and root out corruption of all kinds, in order to build a durable democracy.”
According to results on the president’s Web site, the Democratic Party won last month’s election, taking 31 parliamentary seats, while the ruling Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) captured 25 seats.
The Democratic Party is now looking to form a coalition. A party spokesman said that while it was hopeful of securing support from one of the minor parties, a partnership was not likely to be announced until next month.
Clinton met with Elbegdorj yesterday, before speaking at the International Women’s Leadership forum in the capital, Ulan Bator.
Elbegdorj was a key leader of the peaceful 1990 revolution, and Clinton praised six successful rounds of parliamentary elections held in the country since she last visited 17 years ago when she was America’s first lady.
She dismissed arguments from some Asian nations that democracy “is unsuited to this region’s history, perhaps even antithetical to Asian values,” that it threatened stability or was a privilege of wealthy Western nations.
“It is true that clamping down on political expression or maintaining a tight grip on what people read, or say or see can create the illusion of security. But illusions fade, because people’s yearnings for liberty do not,” she said.