Deliberative Democracy in Mongolia

Deliberative Democracy in Mongolia


I was coming to visit Stanford CDDRL 3 or 4 years ago. My research
interest was focused on the why nations fail, why democracies fail and how to overcome these difficulties. What methodology can help to overcome problems related with populism, corruption, abuse of executive power? At that time I was thinking: Mongolia’s democracy is very fragile; Mongolia’s democracy is facing retreat and crisis maybe, so I was looking for better methodologies, practical ways on the solution of problem. So we did it sinergetically, with James Fishkin from Center for Deliberative Democracy, and with CDDRL – Larry Diamond and Francis Fukuyama. We are very thankful to our distinguished professors. Deliberative polling is a practical method to answer the question: “What would the people think under really good conditions for thinking about it?” So we take a scientific sample of the population, we engage in an arguments for and against different policy options and those good conditions that they think about the issue, and there are small group discussions that are moderated, questions to competing experts and we have a questionnaire, both when we first contact the sample, and at the end of the process. And we see the opinion changes and we understand why the opinions change. So this is a practical method to implement what I call “deliberative democracy”. Not a democracy of sound bites and headlines and fake news, but a democracy where the people get good information and they can think in-depth and share concerns and interests. Usually corruption, and abuse of power, clientelism, is one of the mainstream main problems of developing democracies young democracies. On the other hand, populism is widely spread virus in the world so the deliberate polling is the best methodology, best form of democracy to solve this problem simultaneously. That is why I decided to implement, introduce, deliberative polling in Mongolia. The reason this is so important is all over the world there’s the problem of constitutional change. Many countries give it to a referendum and the results of our deliberative poll may eventually go to a referendum, but a referendum by itself is not deliberative, it’s not thoughtful. People just have an impression of sound bites and headlines and they don’t really think in-depth, and we all see experience around the world of difficult experiences with referendums changing unconstitutional issues. This law is the first time a law was passed requiring deliberative polling as an important of legal matter. Many of the deliberative polls have had consequences in different policy areas. But this is the first time in constitutional change to allow the people of Mongolia to consider the arguments for and against different proposals, which have been discussed by policy elites for years, but what would the people think? What would the people think if they really could hear all the arguments on either side and get their questions answered? That’s what we’re going to find out, so this is the voice of the people. According to the law all local organizations, local communities, which we call sums, are required to conduct deliberative polling on their local development funds and expenditures. In other words sum governor or local municipality governors should conduct deliberative polling with the representatives of scientific samples of the population should deliberate on the budget proposals, expenditures of local development fund. And at national level we are going to conduct the constitutional amendment is required. But also if decision-making bodies will decide to conduct deliberative polling – it’s open and it is a legal practice. The new law is for national constitutional amendments and national issues, but it also has requirements for localities deliberating as well. But we’re going to start with this national project, which is based upon the success of the project we did last year in Ulaanbaatar, which is the capital city and has close to half the population of the country. Based on that experience this we think we can gather, as Zandan said, the whole country in one place to deliberate in depth about a series of proposed constitutional amendments that have been talked about by the experts and policy elites and members of parliament for a number of years, but nobody knows what the people would think about them and if there was a public opinion polling about them the these issues are complex enough that the public would just have an impression of sound bites or headlines. But, in the deliberative process they discussed them in depth with balanced briefing materials. This is embedded in the law thanks to the leadership of Zandan and his colleagues in Mongolia, who saw the merit of it so I salute him for his his leadership in doing this and this is all because Zandan came to CDDRL as a fellow to think about democracy and so it’s a wonderful story about the power of intellectual visits and and how his coming here has allowed him to plant a seed in his own country, which could actually set an example for other countries about how to thoughtfully and in a representative way involve the people in constitutional reforms. So we are very excited about this.

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