Presidential election leaves devastating aftermath

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Two weeks ago, my mother, who worked at the Presidential Election Committee of Delger soum of Govi-Altai Province, was diagnosed with COVID-19. In connection with this, all of my family had to be tested, and we tested negative.

Still, we were isolated at home and my mother was hospitalized at the soum hospital. Although the test was negative, a few days later, me and my family experienced signs of infection. In just 10 days, we spent over 600,000 MNT on medicine, prescription drugs, and immune-boosting products to treat ourselves, and our family business was stopped. Many people are facing similar situations. Every day, at least 10 people, most of them children, are infected in Delger soum and are struggling to get admitted to the small soum hospital, with some of them isolated in school dormitories and at home. Some of the children were in critical condition and were taken to the intensive care unit of the provincial central hospital. Before the start of the election campaign and the opening of all movement across the country, our quiet soum was extremely peaceful and infection-free. However, by the decision of the ruling party and the government, lockdowns were lifted and gatherings and meetings were allowed to take place for the presidential race. Everyone saw that this had a direct impact on the high spread of the pandemic throughout Mongolia, despite the “successful” vaccination campaign.

The number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in Mongolia, which had exceeded 1,000, fell steadily from May 3 to about 900. It continued to fall to about 500 cases per day as of May 24 (the day the presidential election campaign began), but rose sharply since June 3 and reached over 2,500 in recent days. Traffic from Ulaanbaatar opened on May 22. Provincial and municipal government officials were assigned to serve on election commissions. Before the presidential election, in Dundgovi, Bayankhongor, and Govisumber provinces, COVID-19 cases were not registered for more than 20 days and was declared a “green” zone.

Candidate of the Mongolian People”s Party for the Presidential election U.Khurelsukh introduced his platform to local citizens on May 28, and candidate of the Right Person Voter Coalition D.Enkhbat visited Dundgovi Province on May 30. On May 30, three people tested positive for COVID-19 in the soum, right after the meeting.

In Bayankhongor Province, which has not seen any cases for 32 days since May 1, new cases emerged on June 2 and 3. On May 30, the first state worship ceremony of Ikh Bogd Khairkhan took place in Bayankhongor. The ceremony was attended by President Kh.Battulga, Parliament Speaker G.Zandanshatar, lawmakers S.Ganbaatar and A.Adiyasuren, president’s Chief of Staff U.Shijir, monks led by Lama Danzanjambalchoijishinen, and local citizens. The death toll continues to rise as COVID-19 infections intensify nationwide after the presidential election.

In the two years since the pandemic started, many businesses have been shut down, some have gone bankrupt, and many have lost their jobs, income, and time. Yet the prison-like restriction under the slogan “Let’s protect our people from infection” suddenly disappeared before the presidential election. This was the result of a shameful and disastrous decision by the ruling party. As a result, COVID-19 infection rate has reached the highest point, and now Mongolia tops the world chart in terms of rate of infection per million people. Dozens of people die from the disease every day. Due to rising COVID-19 cases, 109 out of 330 soums in Mongolia have restrictions on entry and exit.

As of June 18, 78 countries around the world have banned tourists from Mongolia. This is a clear example of the folly of the ruling party, which wasted the sacrifice of thousands who worked to complied with stringent restrictions at great personal cost to fight the pandemic. The ruling-party backed government has distributed and wasted trillions of taxpayer money on social welfare, infection control, treatment, evacuation and isolation over the past two years. Yet they let it all go to waste by prioritizing election victory over public health.

Since the outbreak, President-elect and former Prime Minister U.Khurelsukh and the succeeding government have distributed record amounts of welfare, such as food stamps, electricity and heating bills exemption, one-time cash handout, vaccine incentive, loan repayment deferral, and coal briquette discounts. They were meant to help the people during the pandemic. But as since the elections are over and he has secured victory, all the welfare and stimulus activates, which are needed now more than ever, will expire on July 1, the finance minister announced shortly after the election.

Ineffective lockdowns have led to the closure of many businesses and the loss of thousands of jobs. Most people are now facing their most difficult period. What are the responsibilities of the ruling Mongolian People’ Party and U.Khurelsukh, who came to the presidency by dangling welfare and state protection, while the election directly contributing to the spread of COVID-19?

There is no denying that the recent presidential election has become a major cause of rising infection across the country. But no one will be held accountable since those who can hold account wouldn’t punish the regulatory organizations that turned a blind eye to infection control regime violation for helping them secure election victory.

Despite need for more testing with rising infection, the cost of voluntary PCR test has reached 98,000 MNT, the price of medicines has risen sharply, and people without money can’t even be sure if they are infected, and they are infecting more and more people. While the people who lost their loved ones to COVID-19 have not even managed wiped away their tears, the government’s careless decisions are causing a great deal of frustration among the population.

Mongolia’s economy has stagnated due to COVID-19. Currently, the fiscal budget has a deficit of 4 trillion MNT. Parliament approved the 2021 budget with a deficit of 2.2 trillion MNT. Economists are warning the authorities to reduce unnecessary and costly investments.  However, in connection with the 100th anniversary of the People's Revolution this year, the Standing Committee on State Structure discussed and approved a draft resolution on the establishment of an honorary medal for the 100th anniversary of the People’s Revolution last week. The medal will be awarded through presidential decree and a total of 975 million MNT has been budgeted for 150,000 medals. The cost of the 100th anniversary celebrations will be about 10 billion MNT, according to the Mongolian government. For many who don’t have money for PCR tests and medications, the decision is seen as an insult. When people are dying, when unvaccinated children are infected and the hospital is overcrowded, it doesn’t make sense to spend billions on medal.

The government has also announced its decision to spend billions on an “online” Naadam festival. Many people are critical of the fact that the authorities seem eager to celebrate during the height of a pandemic. Many are calling for Naadam expenses to be streamed to the health sector instead. Medications and PCR testing should be free. There is an urgent need to purchase a necessary medical equipment. For instance, the most useful device during the pandemic has been the ECMO device. There are only two such devices in Mongolia. One of them was handed over to the First State Central Hospital, and the other to the Military Central Hospital. It is an unacceptable to spend tax payer money on things that are not essential. Many people are demanding the complete cancelation of Naadam and celebrations of anniversaries.

Mongolia, with a population of just over 3 million, is close to overtaking China, with a population of 1.4 billion, in terms of total COVID-19 cases. This is a tragedy. Most importantly, there is no doubt that the current difficult situation was brought about because of reckless government decisions. The presidential election that led to this pit could have been postponed or organized in a more prudent manner, but the president-elect was in a hurry to seize power while the opposition party was in turmoil.

Member of the Scientist Team of the State Emergency Commission and Head of the Physics Department of the National University of Mongolia D.Ulam-Orgikh warns that the number of daily infections could reach 4,000 in the near future. If the infection rate rises further, the number of critical patients will increase and the death toll will jump. We know what caused it, but will anyone take responsibility?

Enkhnaranjav Tumurbaatar