In a testament to Mongolians’ eager participation in elections, during the July 2000 parliamentary election, officials in some rural areas rode on horseback, carrying ballot boxes from ger to ger, some of which served as official polling stations. (From the aforementioned PCV Politics guide.)

June 29, 2008 — Will we see poll boxes in gers? Not in a city like Darkhan. But Mongolia’s favorite nomadic national symbol still plays a big part in elections here. The inexpensive, easily movable ger makes an ideal campaign HQ. Like gigantic mushrooms, the campaign gers pop up every six apartment blocks. By day, they blare out Mongolian folk tunes from Chinese-imported CD players. By night, the gers glow with red neon. Ponytailed girls, in garish orange jerseys, wander out of the painted doors to press glossy calendars into the hands of passersby.

A ger from Ardchilsan nam candidate Tuvdendorj

True, I’ve only run across gers from the Democratic party. (Perhaps the Dems can’t afford office space like the MPRP. Or is it because the Dems seek the rural herder vote this time around)?

One Democratic Party candidate has stolen my heart – Kh. Temuujin.

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Like his namesake, Temuujin kicks ass… well, at least he did on a “Development Debates” reality TV show. Moreover, this Temuujin has sublime taste in political cartoons.

(Yes, Mongolia does have reality TV shows about development. Imagine Mongolian Idol, complete with viewers’ real-time text-messaged votes. But instead of warbling “Country Roads,” contestants argue over things like disability education. It’s quite suspenseful. When squaring off against two distinguished authorities, young Temuujin started off shaky – but he shot from 15% of the vote to 60% within the course of an hour.)

Here’s the MPRP’s “Ardiin Khuu” (Son of the People). J. Sukhbaatar. Lots of billboards show him clowning around with these two Olympic wrestling heroes, Kh. Tsagaanbaatar and B. Naranbaatar. Despite my protests that I can’t vote, I still got this cool calendar from his twelve-year-old minions.

But who knows who to trust? As we say here, “Snake has spots on the outside, human has spots on the inside.”

That’s the name of our latest class. Credit for the title goes to Doug, one of my three awesome co-teachers, who agree that we must subject our 65 students to a crash course on Mongolian political cartoons. This summer, I’ve returned to Darkhan. I’m training our new volunteers in cross-culture and community development.

We geeks feel especially alive — Mongolia will hold a parliamentary election on June 29. Back in 1990, the Mongolian Politburo resigned in a bloodless revolution. Ever since then, Mongolians have participated in free, fair, contested elections.

In 18 years of democracy, though, the MPRP – aka Old Commies – have tenaciously clung to both the parliament and presidency. While the Democrats held the presidency in 1993-97, and Parliament in 1996-2000, their shock therapy economic policies spooked people out dreadfully.

On that election day in 1997, a 62-year-old voter, Baljinnyam told the Associated Press: “I cherish the democracy that we now have, but I voted for Bagabandi [the MPRP candidate] because capitalism is coming too fast to Mongolia and leaving too many people without jobs. (Quote borrowed from an excellent guide to Mongolian politics written by a team of current PCV’s.)

But today, one week before the parliamentary election, only a knife’s edge of a margin separates the two main parties; the MPRP polls at 38%, and the Democratic Party clocks in at 37%.

She’s neither as glamorous nor as wicked as the other Central Asian princesses, but Bermet Akayeva is still formidable.

Gulnara has cash, Dariga has clout; but Bermet has brains. And balls. Bermet’s dad, Askar Akayev, got kicked out during the 2005 “Tulip Revolution.” The whole family fled to Moscow, where Askar settled down to become a humble math professor.

But Bermet doesn’t freak out that easily. She returned to Kyrgyzstan, ran for Parliament, and won. The Central Election Commission invalidated the result due to allegations of irregularity.

Bolotbek Maripov, who lost to Akayeva in [the] disputed parliament seat, said that her return showed courage. ‘I’m glad that there’s at least one man in the Akayev family,’ he added. (Wikipedia)

Bermet’s resume could send a geek into ecstasies:

  • 1989: Graduated Frunze School of Physics and Mathematics, Bishkek
  • 1989-1992: Studied Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics, Moscow State University
  • 1994: MBA, Lausanne Business School, Switzerland
  • 1994-2000: UN Compensation Commission, Geneva
  • Until 2005: Program Coordinator of the well-respected Aga Khan Foundation, Bishkek

Ok, so Bermet may not have the savvy of the other Princesses. But at heart she seems a stubborn, nerdy professor’s daughter, and that’s my kind. : )

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Dariga Nazarbayeva of Kazakhstan

Or

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Gulnara Karimova of Uzbekistan

?

Dariga Facts:

  • Business: Former head of state news agency and major media mogul. Convinced Kazakhstan to go easy on Borat.
  • Political: Harshest critic of her father’s regime, says the Economist. But is this just a ploy to convince the elites she’s not his puppet?
  • Musical: Jury member for Kazakh Idol.

Gulnora:

  • Business: Runs red-light district clubs in Tashkent. Allegedly rakes in the soums by smuggling Uzbek prosititutes to Dubai.
  • Political: Benefits from the state’s crackdowns on all clubs except her own. In general, privatization has been good to Gulnara.
  • Musical: Moonlights as an R&B singer known as Googoosh.

Usually, I’d choose Dariga…. but wait, what’s this, Gulnara used to live in the same tiny 1000-person NJ town as my grandparents! I bet Grandma has talked her ear off while buying lox at Foodtown! Ok, Gulnara wins, and she totally rocks the bling.