Youth involvement can bring long-lasting political development

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The recent demonstration organized by young Mongolians has shown that the voices and attitudes of the younger generation towards social issues can have the strongest impact. It is true that the youth are tired of politics because of the countless false promises made by politicians over the years, but it is safe to say that they are thinking differently from the older generations and creating a new culture and society.

On April 7 and 8, thousands of people aged between 18 and 40 staged a peaceful demonstration against corruption, inequality, tugrug depreciation and inflation, expressing their opinions through banners and chants at Sukhbaatar Square. Their main motto was “Do Your Job!” and they stood up against the government and Parliament for failing to effectively deal with the rocketing inflation situation in Mongolia and making the people suffer. 

Among the most important things observed during this event was the organizational structure of the demonstration. During the protest, some people criticized the youth for expressing their views in a “disorderly manner” and for “being immature”.

This shows that pluralism exists in our society and that these young people united without any political influence. There wasn’t an organization that spoke on behalf of all protesters, a general leader, or an organizational hierarchy. In other words, demonstrators were connected by a common goal and raised demands tailored to their societed needs and situations. They called for a variety of reforms ranging from progressive economic policy to radical challenges to the government.

Admittedly, protests, particularly by young people, are not a new phenomenon. There are examples in our history of young people making major social changes through protests. The 1990 Democratic Revolution, for instance, was a peaceful democratic revolution, which led to the country’s transition to a multi-party system. It was led mostly by young demonstrators who rallied at Sukhbaatar Square. Since then, there have been countless demonstrations and rallies, but most were politically motivated, purposeful, and organized.

But the latest demonstration was seen as a “healthy movement” of young people with critical views of society that proved a new era has truly emerged in Mongolia. Young people are becoming more cultured and educated. They, in particular, politely expressed their views and left the protest site once they got what they wanted – getting the government to listen and motivate it to make necessary changes.

To cite just one example, Sukhbaatar Square remained clean even after thousands of people marched on the square. In the past, it used to look like a landfill after public events.

NEW GENERATION URGE TO MAKE LONG-TERM POLICIES AND DECISIONS

Reluctant to join political institutions, young Mongolians are engaging in social movements characterized by broad demands. The last demonstration has already had some promising results.

Most importantly, their demands were very clear and focused on real social issues. The youth demanded the government do its job properly but did not push it to resign like in the past. At this time when the Mongolian People’s Party is in power alone, young demonstrators know that replacing Premier L.Oyun-Erdene with someone else cannot rectify the current situation. It is commendable that they are thinking rationally and spreading a different kind of voice in society.

The youth made boards and banners that read, “We are thrifting, the government must be frugal too”, “Mongolia is not child friendly”, “Get rid of thieves”, “Rising prices are exhausting us”, “We want to live safely in Mongolia”, “Free us from tax burden”, “Reduce social insurance premiums”, “Lower the cost of living”, “Good education background is of no use in Mongolia”, and “Where is justice?” In other words, they revealed that the problem was exacerbated by Mongolia’s lack of development and failure to fully address fundamental social issues, and sought long-term solutions.

A student of the National University of Mongolia who protested expressed, “If the government listened to comments of more professional economists and industry experts, it would have been able to make more practical decisions serving the public interest. The most important thing is to make long-term policy decisions based on research and by taking into account a wide range of perspectives.”

As a result of the demonstration, Prime Minister L.Oyun-Erdene made a lot of promises during his public statements. In this regard, Cabinet has established a working group and is cooperating with research institutions to meet the youth’s demands.

The prime minister explained, “About 60 percent of the demands can be resolved in the near future. There are also some issues that need to be addressed in the medium term or related to legal reform. Since the government could not address these issues at once, a bill on eliminating the shortage of supplies caused by the international crisis and its negative impact on the economy was submitted to Parliament. Therefore, Parliament has urgently discussed and approved the bill.” In any case, this new generation has assured that it can protest as many times as needed until the government takes substantial action and addresses the issues.

SEEKING ACCOUNTABILITY THROUGH CANCEL CULTURE

Young protestors shunned away some politicians from the demonstrations. In particular, Secretary of the Democratic Party O.Baasankhuu, former Consul D.Munkh-Erdene and Chairman of the Mongolian Democratic Union D.Mongolkhuu took part in the demonstration on the second day, making exaggerated comments on news websites and TV channels. But ordinary or real protesters with no political agenda shooed them from the square to avoid politicizing the youth demonstration. This hints that they’re able to judge and differentiate the good and the bad of society.

In addition, the new generation seems to have learned the culture of boycotting those who are misleading society. In the last presidential election, young people called on others to boycott or stop following social accounts of well-known influencers such as singers and actors who joined campaigns of candidates for money. They also criticized and “canceled” influencers who were “sold” during the recent protest.

Young people have become very critical of the Social Democracy Mongolian Youth Union. They are outraged that the union worked for party leaders rather than raising its voice for the youth. Thus, they called on the government to address issues related to the union as well.

YOUTH POLITICAL PARTICIPATION INCREASES

We know that fewer young people tend to vote in elections compared to older people. They are skeptical of existing political institutions and many feel like politicians and political parties don’t understand the newer generation and fail to relate to or address the challenges they face. As a result, young people are less engaged not only in voting but in traditional political and community institutions as a whole, according to experts.

Voting is the most important form of traditional political participation, but the turnout of Mongolian youth has always been lower than that of older people. More specifically, voter turnout among 18 to 25-year-olds was very low in previous years. In the 2012 parliamentary elections, only 38 percent of people of this age group voted, while 50 percent of them cast their ballot in the 2016 elections.

According to the 2016 Global Youth Development Index, Mongolia scored below the world average and ranked 105th out of 183 countries in terms of political participation. There is no denying that the low turnout of young people contributed to this. Moreover, according to the “Freedom in the World 2019”, a survey of political rights and civil liberties, Mongolia’s turnout in the first democratic elections in 1992 was 98 percent, but in 2020, it dropped to 73 percent, down by 25 percent.

Many studies have shown that the turnout around the world is declining because the new generation is not voting. For example, in a survey of 59 countries, only 43 percent of young people aged between 18 and 25 said they regularly participated in elections.

Fortunately, we have seen a significant improvement in the political activity of our youth since the 2020 parliamentary elections. In this election, 63 percent of young people aged between 18 and 25 voted, an unprecedented turnout for this age group, while in the 2020 local elections, approximately 37.4 percent of youth voted. This is an increase of 4.8 percent from the previous local election.

Mongolia is often called the “place of youth”. Latest demonstrations and rallies have shown that youths are the key investment in bettering the community. In the past, they have also proven that they can influence society by uniting without political influence. Particularly, it can be said that in the 2021 presidential election, the high rating of the Right Person Electorate Coalition and its candidate D.Enkhbat was equal to victory although he’d lost. Among the two main players, the Democratic Party and the Mongolian People’s Party, a third party emerged all thanks to the youth. With more than 20 percent of the vote, the coalition demonstrated, for the first time in Mongolia’s election history, an unprecedented set of standards, culture, role models, and correctness in everything from nominating candidates to campaigning, raising funds, and acknowledging defeat. Behind all this achievement stood young people. The National Labor Party (the Right Person Electorate Coalition), which is not so strong in terms of manpower, structure or organization, reached its current position all thanks to the efforts of the youth.

Generally, the recent youth movement and participation is hoped to bring about complete and long-lasting political change and development.

Misheel Lkhasuren

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