The end of Mongolian communism Election upset: Nearly everyone voted and opposition Democrats won.

July 15, 1996

WHO SAID the Mongolian people are not ready for democracy, just because they are sparse, nomadic, remote and living under alien communism for 72 years? Given the chance, they upset the experts and threw the rascals out. Nearly nine-tenths of those eligible voted, no matter how many miles they had to walk to the polls.

China absorbed Inner Mongolia and, in the late 17th century, Outer Mongolia. Moscow gained influence later. The Chinese empire fell to revolutionaries in 1911, and the Russian empire in 1917. Everything was up for grabs. Outer Mongolia was proclaimed an independent kingdom under a living Buddha in 1911. Russian counter-revolutionary generals subsidized by Japan moved in, so the Bolsheviks and Chinese attacked. The independence movement asked the Soviet government for protection in 1920-1, and has not been heard from since. The People's Republic of Mongolia was established in 1924 as the first Soviet satellite.

Communism was a more ridiculous economic system in Mongolia than anywhere. But the Communist political system was monolithic and the country was integrated into the Soviet system for most purposes. Meanwhile, Inner Mongolia, despite having 4 million people to the Mongolian People's Republic's 2 million, disappeared into a county of China.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Mongolia held a fair election in 1992. The Communists won by saying they were no longer Communists but were now the People's Revolutionary Party and nothing had to change. The people couldn't imagine voting for anyone else. This time, that was supposed to happen again.

The Democratic Union Coalition triumphed instead, on the votes of young people, because the People's Revolutionaries were a bunch of old codgers. The Communists admitted they lost but predict the Democrats won't deliver on promises, which is probably true. One of the most important is to put out the prairie fires, which the old government could not.

Mongolia needs economic aid to attain real freedom independence of Russia and China, and is not likely to get much. It will remain huge, under-populated, pastoral, underdeveloped, poor, remote and puny. Geography, which the voters could not overthrow, remains a powerful determinant.

Pub Date: 7/15/96

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