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It’s never to cold to riot in Ulaanbaatar!

It’s been a lively 48 hours in Mongolia, a country where it’s never too cold for political tumult. On Wednesday, ten ministers in Prime Minister Elbegdorj‘s cabinet resigned, forcing formation of a new government.

Elbegdorj was named Prime Minister in 2004 as part of a compromise “Grand Coalition” government. 2004 parliamentary elections were very close – the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP – the former Communist party) lost their dominance of Mongolia’s parliament, the Grand Hural, winning only 38 of 76 seats. They were forced into a coalition with the Democratic Union Coalition, a coalition of reformist parties. The head of the DUC, Elbegdorj was named Prime Minister, but the majority of ministerial positions were given to MPRP members.

The ten ministers who resigned were all MPRP members. It’s widely speculated that they’ve resigned in order to force formation of a new government with an MPRP Prime Minister at the head, marginalizing the DUC.

The ministers’ resignation led to street protests by supporters of Elbegdorj and the DUC. Supporters marched from the parliament building to the headquarters of the MPRP, where they smashed windows and attempted to enter the building. While the rioting took place, the Grand Hural voted to accept the ministerial resignations, dissolving the government. Next week, the Hural will reconvene to find a path forward, which could include a new coalition, or plans for a general election.

Mongolia’s not Ukraine, despite what the US blogosphere is likely to write once right-wing bloggers hear that people are rioting in the streets against the former Communists. Elections in Mongolia have been free and competitive since shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. The government elected in 1996 moved far from the policies of Communist Mongolia – when free market economics proved a challenge for a previously state-controlled economy, control of the Grand Hural swung back to the Communists in 2000. The dissolution of the coalition of the Communists and their opponents is hardly a surprise, and points to the fact that Mongolian politics is freewheeling and democratic. (Chris Miller, writing from Ulaanbaatar, has more insights on Mongolian politics and recent developments.)

Nathan Hamm of Registan (and Global Voices, where he edits Central Asia and Eastern Europe) is following the events from afar and links to several blogs with perspectives on the situation, including yuu bna?, Mongolian Matters and Tom Terry.

Mr. Terry, a Christian missionary, and one of the organizers of independent Mongolian television station, EagleTV, has a particularly interesting view of the events on the ground, as his reporters are rushing around Ulaanbaatar to cover the parliamentary debates and the street protests. His criticism of Mongolia’s state-owned television stations is a bit self-serving, as his venture competes with them, but his accounts have some great details in them:

Meanwhile, a quick scan of local channels reveals the irresponsibility of Mongolian TV stations as every single one of them is busy showing Sumo wrestling pirated from NHK in Japan instead of the dramatic changes taking place in their government today – sometimes with violence.

(Well, duh. Asashoryu’s 4-1, as is Ama, and former Sekiwake Hakuho is undefeated at 5-0. Maybe Tom’s not a sumo fan.)

Writing today, Mr. Terry wonders if the CUD’s supporers’ decision to call off protests until Monday suggests that the protests will fizzle out. Protests so far have been unusually lively, including burned effigies of MPRP leaders. Terry reports:

Mongols tend to be very respectful of their leaders, even when they disagree with them – or hate them. But today Mongolian politics rose to a new level when protesters burned President Enkbayar, parliament member Badamjugunai, and Chief of Public Transportation Puvedorj in effigy. Such a thing has never happened in Mongolia.

Indeed, one of Mongolia’s great assets is that it’s been a stable, sane, democratic state in a tough part of the globe. I suspect Mongolian pragmatism and good humor will lead to a rapid solution to this current tumult… but it’s certainly going to be interesting to watch.