Former Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar (left) was granted bail today but will remain hospitalized following a 10-day hunger strike to protest his imprisonment on – charges in a case his British lawyer has condemned as “Soviet stuff.”
The probe “reflects political jockeying ahead of next month’s parliamentary election, according to several analysts who term Mongolia’s democracy as both vibrant and immature. At stake in the vote is power over Mongolia’s rich resources of copper, gold, coal and rare earths, including the deals to exploit them and the policies for distributing the proceeds.”
The case has “[thrown] Mongolia’s young democracy into turmoil in a crisis freighted by dueling accusations of corruption and human rights abuses,” the New York Times reports:
In an eerie echo of a political protest in Ukraine, Mr. Enkhbayar, who served as prime minister before leading the country as president for four years until 2009, has refused to cooperate with his interrogators, who barred his lawyers during the questioning. The confrontation intensified when Mr. Enkhbayar, 53, stopped eating and drinking after a local court extended his detention until the eve of the June 28 parliamentary election.
“This is likely to open a Pandora’s box,” said Mark C. Minton, a former American ambassador to Mongolia. “It will do no good for Mongolia’s reputation and due process or rule of law, which is already shallowly rooted.”
Enkhbayar’s hunger strike left Mongolia’s authorities looking confused and uncoordinated. “They got a lot more than they bargained for,” Minton said.
The news of Enkhbayar’s bail was welcomed by his son, but the case will remain politically contested, he said.
“Doctors are very worried about his health recover and all hope the process will go smoothly,” Batshugar Enkhbayar wrote in an e-mail today. “My father is still facing politically motivated false allegations that he needs to fight.”
The current President Tsakhia Elbegdorj’s has called for “humane” and “transparent” treatment for his political rival, following international criticism over his predecessor’s detention. A review of court documents on Enkhbayar’s case suggests his “detention appears to be arbitrary,” said Amnesty International. But Elbegdorj insists that he has no right to interfere in judicial investigations of corruption.
“Corruption has been a growing challenge for Mongolia as it seeks to develop its vast mineral resources without falling prey to the so-called ‘resources curse’, a phenomenon in which countries rich in raw materials experience slower economic development than countries without,” the FT reports:
Despite the huge deposits of copper, gold, coking coal and iron ore contained within Mongolia’s borders, satisfaction with the ruling political parties is very low among voters, who list unemployment, poverty and inflation as their top concerns. …Mongolia remains one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of per capita gross domestic product, ranking 119th, just below Morocco, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Enkhbayar lawyer Peter Goldsmith, a former British attorney general, called the accusations against his client “insubstantial, stale and petty,” the Times reports:
Just as troubling, Mr. Goldsmith said, are Mr. Enkhbayar’s detention without formal charge and the mistreatment of his supporters. Mr. Enkhbayar’s party secretary was harassed after being called into a police station, and another party member was detained for collecting petition signatures, Mr. Goldsmith said.
“Everyone had hoped Mongolia had broken away from the Soviet chain,” he said in a phone interview. “But this is Soviet stuff.”
Mongolia’s democratic consolidation has been sufficiently impressive for the country to assume the rotating chairmanship of the Community of Democracies in July 2011.
Enkhbayar ‘s prosecution is “the highest-level corruption case that Mongolia has experienced since it split from the Soviet Union 20 years ago and [is] proving to be a severe test of its legal and democratic structures,” reports suggest.