Mongolia names new premier, putting IMF rescue back on track

He will face challenges wooing investment, even as IMF is set to disburse bailout funds

ULAANBAATAR • Mongolia named a new prime minister yesterday, weeks after the previous leader and his Cabinet were ousted over corruption allegations.

Mr Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh - a former deputy prime minister known for his macho image, having posed shirtless Putin-style with a hunting gun - was selected by the ruling Mongolia People's Party (MPP), which took power after a landslide election victory a little over a year ago.

In a speech after his victory, Mr Khurelsukh pledged to "improve people's lives, declare discipline and rules, fight corruption and punish those who are irresponsible".

"My Cabinet... will declare justice again," he said, adding: "Don't come to me or my Cabinet members with illegal acts, and don't pressure us to act illegally."

Former prime minister Jargaltulgiin Erdenebat was voted out early last month by legislators who accused him of granting US$328 million (S$446 million) in concessions to eight companies related to his Cabinet ministers.

Mr Erdenebat was also accused of providing illegal cash allowances to voters and presenting a poor image to the public - allegations he has fiercely denied.

Mr Khurelsukh, 49, started his career in the army, and joined Parliament as a member of the MPP in 2000.

  • 65

    Number of national Parliament seats the MPP took out of 76 in the 2016 polls. But it lost a closely contested presidential election in July.

    15

    Number of different Cabinets Mongolia has been through since 1992, each lasting an average of 11/2 years.

As well as his collection of photos inspired by Russian President Vladimir Putin, last month he earned the nickname "Fist" after a 2012 video of him punching a fellow parliamentarian went viral.

Although he has pitched himself as a clean leader, he is also suspected of using illegal donations in his campaign and, in 2007, was investigated for receiving stolen funds from a state-owned bank. The charges were later dropped.

Mongolia's economy had performed well under Mr Erdenebat's government, with a dramatic improvement in the first half of this year, on the back of growing demand for coal from China.

Political instability, however, has been a constant problem for the young Central Asian democracy, which passed its first Constitution in 1992 after decades of Communist rule.

NO HANKY-PANKY

My Cabinet... will declare justice again... Don't come to me or my Cabinet members with illegal acts, and don't pressure us to act illegally.

MR UKHNAAGIIN KHURELSUKH, pledging a clean government after his selection as Mongolia's Prime Minister.

The country has been through 15 different Cabinets in the years since, each lasting an average of 11/2 years.

The MPP took 65 out of 76 national Parliament seats in the 2016 polls, but lost a closely contested presidential election in July.

The decision to demand Mr Erdenebat's resignation was made after the MPP leadership declined to punish party bigwigs for their alleged role in a US$25 million conspiracy to sell government positions that many believe cost the party the presidency.

Mr Khurelsukh will face challenges in bringing back foreign investment to the mineral-rich former Soviet satellite and manage the country's heavy debt load. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved an economic bailout programme to help relieve debt pressures and buoy the currency, the tugrik, that includes austerity policies.

An IMF visit to review the programme that included the disbursement of US$37.82 million of the funds was delayed last month, pending the formation of a new government.

The IMF had said that once a new government was in place, it would engage with the authorities on how best to move forward with the programme.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

 

 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2017, with the headline 'Mongolia names new premier, putting IMF rescue back on track'. Print Edition | Subscribe