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Tsakhiagiyn Elbegdorj

Tsakhiagiyn Elbegdorj assumed the office of President on 18 June 2009, and if re-elected in 2013 could serve a second four-year term that would end in 2017. One of the central themes of Elbegdorj's presidential campaign was that of change, with particular emphasis on fighting corruption.

Born to herders in western Mongolia, Harvard-educated Elbegdorj worked in a factory, studied journalism in Russia, and wrote for Mongolia's army newspaper before becoming a leader in the country's democratic movement in the late 1980s. Since the country's democratization in 1990, he was elected to Parliament four times and served twice as the country's Prime Minister. Elbegdorj is a political survivor who, despite numerous setbacks, has played a vital role in sculpting Mongolia's political system.

Elbegdorj is described as an outgoing, humble person who is comfortable in almost any social setting and is friendly with interlocutors, regardless of rank or status. Contacts also describe Elbegdorj as a risk-taker and someone who puts others' needs before his own.

Elbegdorj was born in March 1963 in Khovd Aimag, the youngest of eight sons born to Tsakhia and Khoninkhuu. His family - Zakhchins, a Mongolian ethnic minority - worked as herders before moving to the northern city of Erdenet when Elbegdorj was sixteen. After finishing high school, he worked at the Erdenet copper mine for a year before beginning his mandatory military service in 1982. During his military service, Elbegdorj submitted poems to the army newspaper - Ulaan Od (Red Star) - that so impressed his superiors that they awarded him a scholarship to study at the Military Political Institute of the USSR in Lviv, Ukraine. He received his B.A. in military journalism in 1988 and returned to Mongolia to work for the army newspaper.

In 1989, at the age of 26, Elbegdorj became one of thirteen early leaders of Mongolia's underground pro-democracy movement and a founder of the Mongolian Democratic Union. Elbegdorj and other activists organized demonstrations, protests, and hunger strikes during the winter of 1989-1990, ultimately rallying enough public support to force the resignation of the country's Politburo in March 1990. That same year, Elbegdorj founded Mongolia's first independent newspaper, "Ardchilal" (Democracy) and served as the paper's editor-in-chief.

Elbegdorj was elected to the country's first Parliament in 1990 and helped to sculpt Mongolia's new constitution, which was ratified on January 13, 1992. Mongolian supporters refer to Elbegdorj as the "Golden Swallow of Democracy," alluding to a bird that comes with spring sunshine after a long, harsh winter.

Elbegdorj was elected to Parliament again in 1992 and 1996 and, as head of the Democratic Party (DP), helped lead the Democratic Union Coalition to its historic victory over the formerly communist Mongolia People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) in the 1996 parliamentary elections. He served as Vice Speaker of Parliament from 1996 to 1998.

On April 17, 1998, Prime Minister Enkhsaikhan announced his resignation in the wake of public discontent over harsh reform measures he had adopted to strengthen Mongolia’s economy. On April 23, 1998, Enkhsaikhan was replaced as Prime Minister by MNDP member Tsakhiagiyn Elbegdorj, the majority leader in parliament, who was elected with 60 votes out of the 76 members in the Great Hural. Elbegdorj, in turn, was forced to resign by a no-confidence vote in the Great Hural on July 24, 1998 — making his government the shortest in Mongolia’s brief democratic history — because of his controversial decision on May 27, 1998, to allow the state-owned Renovation Bank to merge intothe privately held Golomt Bank.

With the Democratic coalition fragmented, the MPRP won an overwhelming victory in the 2000 parliamentary election. Following the demoralizing loss in the 2000 parliamentary election, Elbegdorj and many of his DP compatriots received scholarships to study in the US. He studied at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Economic Institute from 2000-2001, then attended Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, graduating with a Master's of Public Administration in 2002. Elbegdorj has expressed positive views of the US and supported his government's decision to send Mongolian peacekeepers to Iraq and Afghanistan. In late 2001, he wrote, "John F. Kennedy became a Berliner, and I know on September 11, 2001, we became New Yorkers." As Prime Minister, Elbegdorj also promoted the use of English as the key foreign language in Mongolian schools (replacing Russian). Elbegdorj speaks Russian and English.

Elbegdorj made his return to politics in 2004, when he emerged as a compromise candidate for prime minister following the 2004 parliamentary election. Elbegdorj did not run for a parliamentary seat in 2004 and was therefore not a member of the 2004-2008 Parliament. He was elected by Parliament in 2004 to preside over a cabinet split between the Motherland-Democracy Coalition and the MPRP. His second stint as Prime Minister lasted from 2004-2006, when the coalition government collapsed. He continued to serve as DP leader from 2006-2008.

Elbegdorj was elected to Parliament again in June 2008 in a contentious election that resulted in a violent protest, fraud allegations, and stalemate. Elbegdorj resigned his position as head of the DP in August 2008, but was seated as an MP in September 2008 and was selected as the DP's presidential nominee at the party's convention in March 2009.

Elbegdorj met and married Khajidsuren Bolormaa while studying in the Soviet Union. Bolormaa was born in January 1965 in Ulaanbaatar, earned a Bachelor's Degree in engineering from Lviv State University, and studied hygiene methodology at the National College of Business and Technology in Roanoke, Virginia. She is involved with local charity work, including her Bolor Foundation, which works with local orphans. Though supportive of her husband's career, Bolormaa keeps a low profile and rarely appeared at political events with her husband during his stints as Prime Minister or during his presidential campaign. Bolormaa speaks fluent English and Russian.

The couple has four sons and one daughter. Their eldest son, Orgil, was 23 years old in 2009 and a PhD student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Erdene, 20, was a sophomore biology major at Drexel University. Their two youngest sons (Tserendorj, 10, and Tsend, 8) and their daughter (Anuujin, 16) were students at the American School of Ulaanbaatar. Tsend was born in the US when his father was studying at Harvard. Anuujin was adopted from a local orphanage.

Although Elbegdorj's family did not play a visible role in most of his campaign, televised interviews with his wife and mother gave him a final boost during the 2009 presidential election. Both women publicly countered MPRP allegations that Elbegdorj's paternal grandfather had immigrated to Monoglia from China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region. In an emotional segment, Elbegdorj asked his mother about his ancestry and she assured him that his ancestors were, indeed, Mongols from Khovd Aimag. Elbegdorj's countryside roots were critical to both his own self-perception and the way he is perceived by fellow Mongolians. In addition to being a battle between long-time political rivals, the 2009 campaign pitted Enkhbayar, perceived as a well-educated elite, against Elbgedorj, who - despite his Harvard MPA - is seen by urban Mongolians as less sophisticated.

Elbegdorj's rural roots may, however, have given him a boost in rural areas, an MPRP stronghold; Enkhbayar did win the rural vote, but with a smaller margin than expected. During the campaign, the DP candidate exhibited pride in his rural upbringing; campaign commercials showed him riding a horse across the steppe (the same commercial showed Enkhbayar on a horse that fell to the ground) and he aired an interview with his mother, a proto-typical countryside grandmother. Residents of the large ger districts surrounding Ulaanbaatar, Erdenet, and other Mongolian cities also consist of migrants from the countryside and probably contributed to Elbegdorj's overwhelming victories in urban areas.

Elbegdorj was injured in a July 2007 car accident that killed his driver. Press questioned the circumstances surrounding the accident, suggesting that the accident was actually a failed assassination attempt. Rumors intensified when former DP Prime Minister and then-New National Party MP J. Narantsatsralt was killed in a car accident two months later, but police never conducted a formal investigation. The MPRP suggested during the 2009 presidential campaign that Elbegdorj had mental problems stemming from the car accident, but doctors at a mental hospital gave him a clean bill of health.

To counter "erroneous" reporting of the facts relating to the investigation, arrest, and charges against him by Mr. Enkhbayar and his supporters, on 08 June 2012 Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj issued the following statement:

"My first decree as the President of Mongolia was to call for promoting and enhancing civic education to affirm democracy, freedom and human rights as fundamental values of the Mongolian people. I have also acted to effectively end Mongolia's use of the death penalty, and late last year our government was recognized by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for our civil rights commitments. This spring marked the 25th anniversary of open Mongolia-U.S. relations and a shared belief in a commitment to the rule of law, governing transparency, and the sanctity of human rights. As with the support that our American allies have provided Mongolia in deepening the roots of democracy, it is our hope that the U.S. as well as our European allies will acknowledge and support Mongolia's work to end the scourge of corruption that otherwise will hinder the progress of our democratic system."

"Mongolia's growth into a mature democracy requires continued work to eliminate the scourge of corruption that plagues too many of the world's developing countries. Mr. Enkhbayar's case is one of nearly 20 high profile corruption cases. Freedom and corruption cannot co-exist together. And freedom, human rights, rule of law are non-negotiable, as is the fight against corruption. The law should apply equally with no preferential treatment for anyone. It is a core principle of democracy that no one is above the law, and that includes everyone from high government officials to ordinary citizens," said President Elgebdorj.

"I urge citizens of democratic nations around the world to follow the trial carefully, consider the facts as they are presented, and avoid rushing to judgment until the evidence against Mr. Enkhbayar has been publicly laid out in a court of law. As Mongolia continues her progression into a modern, democratic society, we will need the support of our allies and the democratic world. It is crucial that Mongolia's allies pay close attention to the facts revealed during the trial of Mr. Enkhbayar."

"On June 28, Mongolians throughout the country will exercise their democratic rights to cast their ballots for their choice to represent them in parliament. We invite the world to witness our unyielding commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law by coming to Mongolia to enjoy unrestricted access to observe our electoral process."

"Whether Mongolia shall prevail as a free, open beacon of human rights, or whether she shall fall into injustice and corruption is an issue of pivotal significance at this juncture of Mongolia's development," concluded President Elbegdorj.

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Page last modified: 01-07-2012 18:54:20 ZULU