Draft law bolsters the legislative empowerment of Mongolian citizens

Article, 15.12.2016

A draft Law on the Implementation of Citizens’ Political Rights that will enable citizens to take part in State affairs is currently being developed in Mongolia. Journalist Enerel interviewed Mrs D. Sunjid, Coordinator of the Civic Engagement Project implemented by the Office of the President within SDC’s Governance and Decentralisation Programme, and Ms. H. Nomingerel, a member of the working group tasked with elaborating the law.

We talk a lot about citizens’ initiatives and participation; however, they’re not currently realised under Mongolia’s laws unless they’re directly supported by authorities. Will a Law on the Implementation of Citizens’ Political Rights change this situation?

D.S: We have many regulations related to citizens’ participation within existing legislation in Mongolia; however, they’re not adequately implemented because the ultimate decision-making power is in the hands of the authorities or officials.

According to recent surveys by Sant Maral and other research institutions, citizens’ faith in the State is lower than ever before and the reputation of political parties is continually declining. There is hence a need for a new mechanism that connects the State and citizens and ensures that government decisions match citizens’ opinions and priorities. 

The draft Law on the Implementation of Citizens’ Political Rights initiated by the President of Mongolia enables citizens’ initiatives to be reflected in State decisions through three direct democracy mechanisms: Citizens will have the right to initiate referendums at national and local levels, to propose issues for deliberation by Citizens’ Representative Khurals (CRKhs) or the State Great Khural (Parliament), and to submit law drafts to three law initiators in accordance with the Constitution who will then submit them to Parliament.

Sometimes important laws remain on the parliamentary waiting list. Under this draft law, citizens are able to initiate legislation and have it discussed among lawmakers. But what will happen if it isn’t accepted?

H.N: Citizens can submit requests to their locally elected representatives and Members of Parliament to adopt a particular law.

Submissions are subject to the same procedures as other petitions or complaints. However, under the draft law, Parliament and CRKhs will be required to deliberate all issues raised that meet the legal requirements, as well as to decide on those issues.

For instance, does this mean that people can organise to push forward deliberations on the draft Law on Domestic Violence? 

H.N: Yes. We all know that the government submitted a draft Law on Domestic Violence to Parliament last autumn, which was withdrawn and then postponed.

The current draft law enables people to have such legislation placed on Parliament’s priority list. When a large number of citizens support these initiatives, legislators pay attention. However, if a draft law was not submitted by a law initiator, it cannot be considered. In this situation, citizens can avail of another mechanism to initiate and submit their proposal to a law initiator.

We have a Law on Referendums but it has not been used since it was approved. If citizens were to push for a referendum, what steps should they take under this draft law?

D.S: Mongolia adopted a Law on Referendums in 1995 that was revised in 2016 and which has never been used. This is because referendums can only be introduced by law initiators, as stipulated in the Constitution.

The current draft law enables citizens to initiate referendums to determine issues of concern at state and local levels and make amendments to the Constitution, other laws and CRKh decisions. There are restrictions on who can call for a referendum and what issues are eligible for referendums.

Referendums can only be held if a sufficient number of signatures are gathered. A larger number of signatures are required for referendums on constitutional amendments.

If the required number of signatures is gathered, what then happens?

D.S: The Parliament or CRKhs must deliberate on and then make a decision about an issue, as well as inform the public at least six months before the proposed referendum date. If the State doesn’t support an issue raised by citizens, both parties will provide information for the public with which they can then make an informed decision.

Under this draft law, is the right to initiate legislation also vested with citizens in addition to the Parliament, government and President?

D.S: Not directly. In accordance with the Constitution, Parliament, the government and the President are empowered to initiate legislation; citizens can submit proposals for laws to their elected officials, which means further progress is dependent on their will.

The draft law changes this. If a legislative proposal meets the legal requirements, it will be checked by the General Election body and then submitted to one of three law initiators. If a law initiator doesn’t support the proposal, he/she will be required to publicly make known the grounds the decision.

What will this law achieve if approved?

H.N: The draft law is a legal guarantee for citizens to enjoy their political rights as enshrined in the Constitution, enabling them to express their interests through their elected representatives and voluntarily unite.

People will have the right to submit legislative proposals to law initiators, ensure an agenda for parliament or CRKh deliberations and, if this is unsuccessful, to initiate local or national referendums. If they are unable to gather the required number of signatures, putting the issues in the public spotlight will earn the attention of the State and decision-makers and inform them of society’s wishes.

Citizens will also be supportive of decisions they have initiated. Civic education will be improved and the public will be more assertive in regards to critical issues and will demand accountability from the State and officials.

Citizens’ initiatives and referendum results will become legally binding decisions. Most importantly, instead of a top-down approach, there will be a new bottom-up approach that is based on citizens’ initiatives.

The interview was published on baabar.mn in mongolian.