A celebrity and business tycoon being elected president. A man whose campaign touted nationalism, with a slogan of putting the nation “first.” Possibly the most divisive election in the country’s modern history. A country divided while trying to overcome dire economic stresses. An incredibly close election with a great deal of mudslinging and rhetoric. A partisan government struggling to work together despite being on opposite sides of the aisle.
All of this surely sounds like U.S. President Donald Trump and his election, which resulted in both great celebrations and intense protests. But I’m not talking about Mr. Trump. I am talking about Khaltmaa Battulga, who was elected president of Mongolia in 2017.
President Battulga, who served three terms in Mongolia’s Parliament prior to being elected president, is perhaps best known for his successful businesses, his early art career and his ranking as a world champion martial artist. And as president, Mr. Battulga certainly has his work cut out for him.
Mongolia has fallen on hard economic times. Although the country is rich in minerals and natural resources, many of the country’s mines are controlled by foreign powers, resulting in Mongolia not benefiting from this ground wealth — something Mr. Battulga intends to change. In May 2017, the International Monetary Fund entered into a bailout agreement with Mongolia that has actually left many poorer Mongolians worse off, with higher taxes and restricted federal aid. Mongolia, a proud country with a rich cultural history, is left relying on the IMF and China for its survival.
The Mongolian-Chinese history is one fraught with tensions and wars. Though their economies are now closely intertwined, for a long time Mongolia and China were at odds, with the Chinese actually fortifying the Great Wall of China to keep out the Mongolians for centuries. Then, for approximately 200 years, Mongolia was under Manchurian colonization eventually reassuming its individuality in the early 1900s.
Now, despite Mongolia being a separate country, China still has a firm grasp on the country’s economy. In his campaign, Mr. Battulga railed against Chinese influence and control in Mongolia and swore to use the office of president to put “Mongolia first.” One way in which Mr. Battulga plans to do this is by strengthening his nation’s relationships with other countries. Mr. Battulga’s primary focus on this front is Russia, as Mongolia is a country sandwiched between Russia and China; he also seeks to buttress relations with the United States, India, Japan, South Korea and the European Union.
Mr. Battulga has already made great strides in this area, working to ensure that the many Chinese-controlled mines in Mongolia benefit his country. He seeks to have mine profit go through Mongolian banks and for the approximately 3 million Mongolian citizens to receive dividends from these mines on their lands.
But Mr. Battulga is not one to throw the baby out with the bath water. He has also recently cited his support to build a key rail line between Mongolia’s Tavan Tolgoi coal mine and China.
One of his greatest obstacles, however, is Parliament. While Mr. Battulga is a member of the Democratic Party, Mongolia’s Parliament is controlled by the Mongolian People’s Party. In order to effect these changes, Mr. Battulga needs to work with opposing party members and truly put “Mongolia first.”
I believe in his ability to do this. I know that Mr. Battulga can raise Mongolia higher because he has done so in the past. With Mr. Battulga’s strong leadership at the Mongolian Judo Federation, Mongolian judokas became Olympic champions for the first time in the country’s history.
Even more than that, we have seen Mr. Battulga raise himself as well. When he was just a young child, his family lost everything in the flood of Tuul River. But his family worked hard and rebuilt themselves. Mr. Battulga graduated from art school and used his burgeoning artistic business to become fluent in English, which seems to be a must for world leaders these days.
From there he formed his own clothing business and then moved into electronics. He was then vital in the privatization of state-owned assets, growing Mongolian industries such as tourism and meat processing. This is clearly a man who knows how to take what is given to him and create something successful and enduring.
When I look at Mongolia, I see a country that is still struggling to overcome centuries of oppression at the hands of the Chinese. Luckily, I also see a leader who can make Mongolia a once-again thriving and enriched country.
Mongolia as a country and President Battulga have an incredibly inspiring story to share.
• Josh Nass is a public relations executive.