We spoke with E.Zolzaya, Head of HUN Party committee of the Capital City, Ulaanbaatar. She is also known as the founder of the “Creative 100” association, which brings together urban planners, engineers, architects, and transportation industry experts in the fields of environment and sustainable development.
After you were elected as the Head of the capital's party committee, you wrote in your Facebook that you are one step closer to becoming the capital city's first female governor in 2024. Is becoming the mayor considered as your future goal and ambition?
“I want to become the first female governor of Ulaanbaatar in 2024. I will work hard to make the citizens of the capital city live in a pleasant and green city”. I wrote that statement on my social media channel back in 2017.
I had forgotten about that fact that I wrote the above statement on my social media channel, but after having been elected as the Chair, one of my close friends said that I wrote this seven years ago and reminded me that I was one step closer to achieving my goal. I did not suddenly state such things after I was elected as the Head of the party committee. In fact, I have been thinking about this since 2016, when I started working in the city. When I was writing the statement, I was working as a consultant at the Asian Development Bank. At that time, I got acquainted with the green investment and redevelopment project in Tokyo, and while meeting people, I heard that the governor of Tokyo is a woman and that I should be a leader in this field as well. That's when I wrote that statement on Facebook the night after this event happened. I think that the things I have done in the past, the knowledge and experience I have accumulated, and the goals I want to achieve have intersected at one point at this time and brought me to where I am today. A lot of preparations have been made for the internal extension of the party committee. I presented my agenda and principles for the development of the Ulaanbaatar city and was elected by majority vote.
You were the only woman who competed in the election of the Head of the capital's party committee. The fact that the majority of the representatives supported you may be related to the policy of ensuring gender equality, which the HUN Party follows. What was your agenda?
Our party has announced the implementation of the “HUN 50:50” policy in order to support women's participation and leadership in politics. When I worked outside the political sphere, I used to listen to the news and information about this from the position of the recipient, but now I actually participate in the implementation of this policy myself. Not only did I join, I became a member of the Board of Directors and I competed democratically and was elected as the Head of the party committee. The activities implemented in the past, the accumulated experience, and the principles I followed were in line with the policies of the HUN Party, which gave me a strong impetus to make such choices and decisions. The members of the party also assert that, “We want to see the first female governor”.
The best young people with many years of experience in the fields of real estate, asset management, and development economics competed in the election process. As a person who has worked in the field of urban development for a long time, I briefly presented several basic principles of my platform. For example, I said that I would focus on eliminating the inequality in the life of citizens living in apartments and ger district. There is a basic principle of providing service to citizens in the city. It has the functional role of making daily life comfortable and hassle-free for the basic needs of citizens. After that, it is right to talk about building a safe, accessible, green city with economically strong citizens. However, today's Ulaanbaatar city cannot provide the most important and basic services to the citizens.
There are many families and citizens living in the capital city but not connected to the central infrastructure. Inequality is widened for sure in the areas with apartments and houses built. Therefore, it is considered appropriate to develop the capital city of Ulaanbaatar in a compact and dense manner in the coming years without expanding beyond the current development. If the city is unable to provide and maintain its basic services, the situation will worsen further if it expands. Therefore, it is important to keep it compact. For this, it is necessary to pay attention to increasing the price of the land in the residential area and improving the comfort of the people living there. Of course, the services in other areas should not be overlooked. I also raised the issue of making people's choices in all sectors primary, including in the development of housing and transportation. In order to get from point A to point B, citizens should be able to travel by means of their choice, such as bicycles, public transport, or private cars. If you travel on foot, you need to have space to walk freely. In this way, the policies and principles for the development of the city have been revealed. These are intended to be implementable. We are developing our agenda based on this.
There are many pressing issues in the city that require solutions. However, it is important to make policy changes and reforms before addressing them.
In order to define your policies and concepts, you need to draw up your principles as mentioned. Based on this, many things will become clear and stand out when developing the development concept. It should be very clear and understandable to all those who work in the city administration, as well as officials at the level of power, policy development, and decision-making. We are developing a concept based on the fundamental principles presented earlier. It will be presented to the public when the time is right. It can be seen from this work that the HUN party has a professional and competent team. We need to make people believe that the ideas we propose are feasible. In general, many people have lost hope and are living in sadness at this time. We believe the change is possible with a competent team and a clear goal set behind us, which is the big advantage.
The fact that our country does not have a policy succession and a unified concept can be seen from all the decisions and works implemented in the capital city on the ground. In general, how stable are the development policies and concepts of cities around the world?
The main document of city development is the general plan. In fact, Ulaanbaatar is a compact city with all services close to its citizens. It's not just me who came out and started talking about it recently. The international organization JICA, in cooperation with the capital city, when developing the general plan for the development of Ulaanbaatar city from 2020 to 2030, recommended the development of the “Compact city” model. Due to the lack of implementation of this, the capital city has expanded too much today. Yarmag has become the most inconvenient and unpleasant area for people to live. Ulaanbaatar would be a little different today if the policy documents developed by professionals had been followed in planning.
Because of the fact that the city planners do not faithfully follow the documents they “worship” like a religion, every governor “brings out” his dream plans and projects. The current city management intends to make long-term plans, as they said and get consulting services for their plans. A mayor must have his own beliefs, policies and leadership. But the current city leadership doesn't have these manners. There is no competent leadership in the capital city to develop and take the city management to the next level. All professional people have been driven away. In order to build the city on its feet, there is a need for systemic reforms in the capital.
You are recognized and known for your knowledge and skills. Do you have experience working at the management level?
Since becoming the head of the capital's committee, the responsibilities and workload have increased. In addition to accepting this position with great gratitude, I focus more on devoting my time fully, participating, empowering others, and working together as a team. Working at the management level requires soft skills in addition to basic knowledge, expertise, and experience. I was listening to an international lecture recently where it talked about knowledge and empathy. Indeed, when a person specializes in a particular field and develops expertise, he or she starts to think of the effects of his or her actions and work on others. This is when the real leadership emerges. There is a need to work in three timelines: planning for the future, strengthening and developing the existing team, and learning from the past. Of course I believe in myself. But I am not omnipotent. The current city administration may not have legal expertise, but I have a team and colleagues that can fill that void. I think leadership in the new era is to make up for what you don't know and can't do, to learn, and to convince people that you can.
You have become the Head of the capital's HUN Party committee at a critical time with the 2024 parliamentary election approaching. In what areas of work will you pay more attention to in the future, and what policies and principles will you follow?
I aim to set my goal as big as possible. Many accompanying laws are being amended in connection with the amendment of the Constitution. The ruling party has proposed changes to the Law on Local Elections several times. There are many unknowns. But there is a lot of faith and hope. There is nothing to fear because we are working as a team with strong people who have unity, values and principles. I will mobilize all my strength and resources and work as a leader in the elections for the capital and district. Political parties have the opportunity to implement their policies and measures only when they hold the power of the state. Therefore, we will strive to expand our influence and implement our planned activities.
Have you been able to create and prepare your human resources to the extent of implementing the “HUN 50:50” policy, which aims to support the participation of women?
The HUN Party has been expanding very rapidly recently. In particular, political actions and the state of replacing the position of the opposition forces inspire the society and the public. Along with this, young people are joining our party in large numbers. It has been noticed that women come in and join our team more boldly and assertively than men. Basically, we announced the policy and prepared the ground to make it open to everyone. Now sprinkle some seeds on it and it's ready to bloom. As part of the policy to expand membership and build human resources, many activities are planned and carried out to encourage women and increase their participation.
According to the amendments made to the Constitution, next year's parliamentary elections will be held in a mixed electoral system, and members will be elected by list and by constituencies. A lot depends on who gets to compete in the constituency and what kind of person you put on the list. What are the policies and principles of the HUN Party?
The HUN Party supported and led the change of this system. Having a multi-party system is important for keeping politics healthy and strengthening democracy at a time when there are problems caused by many external and internal factors. We will stand on the right side. And we will continue to do so. We have the ability to proudly compete, as the ruling party has made rules of the game and made decisions by the power of the majority. There is nothing wrong with people who are honest and true to their principles. The main thing is that everything should be fair and just.
The HUN Party has been a strong voice of the opposition for the past four years, especially in the capital city. Recently, the “green bus” case, which caused a huge scandal, and many confusions related to the capital's budget were exposed. It seems that the fact that experts and specialists from the field are employed in the Policy Research Institute under the party creates the conditions for a serious approach to such issues?
The structure of the HUN Party is very compact and clear. Although the number of members is increasing, they are not thinking of branching out and “drawing” a large structure. The researchers and experts of the Policy Research Institute analyze the annual state and capital budgets and make recommendations. A new council of city experts is working under this institute. It includes 17 professionals with expertise in the field of urban development. The council has the best experts in the fields of energy, infrastructure, heat supply, transportation, housing policy, development economics, foreign relations and standards of international cities.
These people will analyze from a professional point of view how the policies and decisions made by the capital city will affect the citizens on the ground, whether they can be implemented or not, and express their perspective based on their professionalism. I will also participate in the development of an agenda that is consistent with my principles. The case of the “green bus” has made it clear that theft has occurred to a certain extent just by going to the outskirts of the industry. As this case is being investigated by law enforcement agencies, we will patiently and carefully monitor the final results. It is not a matter that is reported and announced to the public and then abandoned. That is not how it should be resolved.