Dr. Danzan Lündeejantsan, Member of Parliament and Leader of the Working Group on Organizing the Discussion of the draft changes and amendments to the Constitution at the national and regional levels speaks with The Mongolian Observer on this important process, which will mark a watershed in the political, social and economic life of the country.
There has been open support and opposition to the proposed changes and amendments to the Constitution. Some quarters say that the MPP, which is in majority in the Parliament, is pushing for and rushing the Constitutional amendment. Your comments please.
The Constitution of Mongolia is a joint product of the state and the people of the country. It is a convention between the Mongolian state and the people concluded 25 years ago. Every Constitution needs to change in line with social development and it must also overcome the tests and trials the founding fathers of the Constitution were not able to take into full consideration. Mongolia’s society today, as compared to 1991 when the new Constitution was being drafted, has changed greatly and depending on these social, economic and political changes, there arises the imperative need to make changes and amendments to the Constitution.
Was any attempt made to introduce changes and amendments to the 1992 Constitution before now or is this the first exercise to do so?
Since the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution changes and amendments were made to it in 2000. The proposed changes and amendments were not discussed nationally by the people. It was considered within a narrow political framework, considered and adopted in a matter of 2 days, and therefore, the changes and amendments to the Constitution in 2000 have been criticized and have been even dubbed as “The Seven Undermining Changes.” Since, Members of Parliament have submitted several draft proposed changes and amendments in 2011, 2012 and 2015 respectively.
The draft proposed changes and amendments were developed in a number of stages. First, basing on the recommendations from a scholarly conference on the Constitution held in mid-December 2016, the Prime Minister set up a working panel to draft changes and amendments. This panel organized meetings and discussions in 21 aimags and 9 districts of Ulaanbaatar with some 3,690 people participating, the objective of which were to study people’s thoughts and ideas. In the second stage, a working panel, headed by myself, was set up at the Parliament. We studied proposed recommendations made earlier in 2012-2016 by working groups headed by former Vice Speaker of Parliament L. Tsog, another working panel of MPs from all Parliamentary parties headed by former Parliament Member N. Batbayar, as well as by the Secretariat of the State Ikh Khural, academics and scholars, basing on which our working panel came up with the 6-Point Proposed Changes and Amendments to the Constitution. The third stage included the conducting of a two-stage deliberative polling in April 2017 which brought together randomly selected citizens from all across the country who exchanged ideas and made recommendations on the 6 package of proposed changes and amendments (See TMO No. 4 for 26.4.2017). The fourth stage included the drafting of changes and amendments basing on the recommendations of the deliberative polling by a 25-member Consultative Council which has a broad representation from the Parliament, political parties, the academic and relevant organizations and institutions. We are now in the fifth and perhaps the final stage of this process, that is, we have almost completed conducting nation-wide debate and discussion around the 22-point changes and amendments, which will wind up on 5 September this year. Finally, all the Parliamentary standing committees will discuss the proposals and recommendations from the nation-wide discussions which have been conducted along the Commentaries to the Draft Changes and Amendments to the Constitution (cover of the commentary book – top left).
As couple of years ago a UNDP-commissioned study called “Assessment of the Performance of the 1992 Constitution of Mongolia” was carried out which came up with some 20 recommendations.
As a matter of fact, the decision to hold debates and discussions around proposed changes and amendments was taken before the Presidential election held in late June this year.
Can you, briefly, give an overview of the proposed 22-point changes and amendments?
The changes and amendments proposed affect the State Ikh Khural, the President, the Government, the Judiciary and the Administrative and Territorial Units of Mongolia and their Management.
There are 8-point changes and amendments suggested in terms of the Parliament, such as Barring the Parliament from creating new budgetary spending and increasing spending; the duration of the regular session of the Parliament; the quorum and the benchmark for approval of a bill; dissolution of the Parliament; establishment of a provisional control committee for the term of the Parliament; about a state monitoring institution responsible for supporting the oversight responsibility of the Parliament; Parliamentary election system, and, barring Parliament Members from taking offices that fall outside of their duties and responsibilities.
For example, Article 27 of the 1992 Constitution is being reinstated, which was amended in 2000. This provision of the 1992 Constitution says that the session will be considered valid if the special majority (more than 70%) of all the Members of the Parliament come for the session, and the issue will be endorsed with a majority of the members present. The 2000 amendment read that the quorum will become valid if the majority (51%) or only 39 of the 76 members of parliament are present at the session. Another example concerning the dissolution of the Parliament. This is a matter of responsibility and accountability and concrete provisions have been suggested.
There is a proposed change to the parliament election system or framework. This covers such ideas as how to further streamline the elections, how to ensure that people are being genuinely and fully represented in the legislature. The proposed changes and amendments also concern barring MPs from holding additional government posts, such as say Cabinet Member, which has been criticized by the people and a new term has also been coined called “The Double Del” (Del is the traditional gown of the Mongols. TMO).
There are two changes and amendments related to Presidency. According to the new proposal the President will no longer have the right to initiate bills and give instructions to the Government. The first draft in April had suggested to prolong the term of Office of the President to 6 years and the President would not be elected by the people but by the Parliament and this proposed change was rejected by the people. (See TMO No. 4 for 26.4.2017)
It must be noted here that these proposed changes related to the Presidency did not come after the Presidential election, all these proposals and suggestions are coming from the people in the course of their discussion.
There are 6-point changes and amendments in the Constitution related to the Government. They bar MP to serve on the Cabinet, the manner and procedure in which the Cabinet will be formed, the procedure for the resignation of the Prime Minister, determining in the Constitution the complete structure and set up of the key Government ministries, and changes and amendments related to civil service and civil servants.
The PM will, like in Japan, Germany etc., will form his own Cabinet. This will ensure higher responsibility and accountability and these are two very important issues as no one takes responsibility and no one is held accountable for any erroneous action or policy. The other provision on including or embedding in the Constitution the names of the key Government ministries is significant too. Every time we have a General Election, the names and responsibilities of the key ministries are changed, modified, expanded or slimmed down (See table below). This will ensure continuity in Government policy, which is absent today. Similarly, civil servants are sacked en-masse and replaced when a new Party comes to power following an election.
What changes and amendment are suggested for the judiciary?
There are some substantial changes proposed for the judiciary. For instance, suggestion has been made to reinforce the judicial system, which would guarantee the right of civilians to a fair court and democracy principles, and strengthen the integrate judicial system. The draft also proposes the expansion of the membership or composition of the General Court Council, ensuring independence from an individual official, setting the minimum age for the judges and in this connection also the citizens of the country are suggesting that there should be a minimum age for becoming a member of the State Ikh Khural.
Lastly, proposed changes and amendments concern administrative and territorial units and their management. One, there is the question of town/city of national and aimag levels, and two, towns under the rural local administrations. The proposed changes also concern the appointment of the governors of aimags, the capital city, soums, baghs in rural areas and districts and khoroos in the cities. There are suggestions that the aimag Governors should be appointed while the soum governors should be elected and this suggestion is picking up momentum.
These 22-point proposed changes and amendments did not appear just out of the blue. They are based on suggestions and recommendations by the people of the country made in the course of many debates and discussions, as well as proposals made by researchers and scholars. There too are suggestions which have not been included in the draft proposed changes and amendments. Our working panel has reviewed them all.
Why is that so?
According to the Law on the Procedures for making changes and amendments in the Constitution, less than 34 percent of the Constitution can be changed or amended. For instance, one of the most debated issues was the question of making the Mongolian Parliament bicameral with two houses – People’s Great Khural and Small Khural. Had this proposal been considered then we would face with the task of drafting a totally new Constitution, which is a totally different matter.
Our new Constitution of 1992 is a meticulously and thoroughly thought through fundamental law and I personally believe that it has withstood the test of time quite well.
If the proposed changes and amendments will be adopted then we will have to review and accordingly draft changes and amendments to many other relevant laws and legislation, which is also demanded by experience. Also the Law on Political Parties will be overhauled for which the preparations have already started.
You have said that the debates and discussions around Constitutional changes and amendments are nearing their end. What happens if there are people, who could not take part in such discussions, who would want to make suggestions?
The Secretariat of the State Ikh Khural has a working group which is overseeing this matter. All the branches of the Mongol Post company, both in the urban and rural areas, have printed questionnaires related to the proposed changes and amendments, which are available and can be filled up and posted free to be sent to the State Ikh Khural Secretariat working group. Proposals and suggestion can also be made online by going to this link: htpp://forum.parliament.mn.
What is the next stage after 5 September when people would have made their proposals, suggestions and recommendations?
The working group and the sub-group will consolidate the proposals and suggestions, and by October this year the draft proposal for Constitutional changes and amendments would be ready, which will be first reviewed by the relevant experts and it will also be signed by all the members of the State Ikh Khural, aftre which the draft will be submitted to the State Ikh Khural and personally I am not able to say when that would happen. According to the relevant law, the State Ikh Khural must consider the draft proposals within one month after they are submitted, however, we must bear in mind that there are many other pressing and urgent issues, such as the harvesting, preparations for the winter etc., that may have to be considered even before the draft Constitutional changes and amendment proposal, is considered, which has to be discussed as a stand-along issue without diverting into other topical matters.
The final stage will be the national referendum.
Here I would like to emphasize is that the people of Mongolia made their choice in 1992 and proceeding from this premise, whatever the changes and amendments, the fundamental concept of the Constitution will not be and cannot be encroached upon.
Finally, rest assured, not a single proposal and suggestion by the citizens will be overlooked.