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Mongolia in Brief

Mongolia is a landlocked country bordered by Russia to the north and China to the east, south and west. With an area of more than 1,565,600 square kilometers, it is the world’s seventh largest country. Mongolia shares a 4,673 km border with China on its eastern, western and southern sides and a 3,485 km border with Russia to the north. Approximately 65% of the country is steppe grasslands; the southern third is Gobi desert, while forests and mountains cover approximately 12% of the total land, mostly in the northern areas. While part of the desert is true desert, much of it is classed as desert steppe and has sufficient grass to support scattered herds of sheep, goats, and camels. Mongolia is rich in mineral resources with substantial deposits of gold, fluorspar, ferrous metals such as molybdenum, and non-ferrous metals such as lead, copper, nickel, aluminum, tin and bismuth.

The landscape includes one of Asia's largest freshwater lakes (Lake Khövsgöl), many salt lakes, marshes, sand dunes, rolling grasslands, alpine forests, and permanent mountain glaciers. Northern and western Mongolia are seismically active zones, with frequent earthquakes and many hot springs and extinct volcanoes. The productive regions of Mongolia—a tableland ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 ft (914 to 1,524 m) in elevation—are in the north, which is well drained by numerous rivers, including the Hovd, Onon, Selenga and Tula.

The Mongolian latitude (between 42 and 52 degrees north) is roughly the same as Central Europe or the northern states of the USA. Because the country is landlocked and distanced from the world’s oceans, and has a large proportion of its landmass at a relatively high altitude, the climate exhibits large temperature fluctuations and low total rainfall (the Ulaanbaatar average is 220 mm per annum, approximately 10 inches). Most of the precipitation falls during the brief summer season, while winters are generally dry and extremely cold.

The climate in Mongolia is extreme continental and has an average of 257 days of sunshine a year, and it is usually in the center of a region of high atmospheric pressure. Temperatures are extreme in winter (as low as -50C) and summer (as high as 50C). In Ulaanbaatar, July is the warmest and wettest month, with an average temperature of 17C and an average rainfall of 76 mm, while January is the coldest and driest month, with an average temperature of -25C and no precipitation. Rainfall is highest in the north, which receives an average of from 20 to 35 inches of rain per year and lower in the south, which receives only 10 to 20 centimeters.

POPULATION AND SOCIETY - Traditionally nomadic people, increasingly urbanized

Bounded by to the north and China to the south, Mongolia is vast country and sparsely populated- larger than Western Europe, but with a population of under 3m people. The country of wind- swept steppes, plains and deserts is famous for its nomadic tradition, still influential despite rapid development. However, stable and democratically- ruled Mongolia is also emerging as a key centre for mining investment, with important mineral reserves and a number of major projects due enter production soon. 

Mongolia, covering a surface area of 1.56m sq km, is the 19th largest country in the world. The country is entirely land- locked, with land borders that stretch 8220 km. The capital, Ulaanbaatar, has a population  of around 1.1 m according to the 2010 census.

Present-day Mongolia has been inhabited by modern humans for approximately 40.000 years, with major political systems developing in the first millennium BC. A succession of nomadic tribal confederations, including the Xiongnu, Xianbei, Rouran, Khitans and Khamag Mongols, ruled over large parts of the steppe between 200 BC and 1200 AD. The Mongols burst onto the global stage, however, with the Eurasian empire established by Chinggis (Genghis) khan in the 13 th century. At its height, Chinggis’ empire stretched from Poland to Vietnam and held over 100 m people. Upon his death, however, Chinggis territory was divided into four khanates (a political entity ruled by a khan), which gradually crumbled, although one achieved fame as the late 17 th century submitted to the rule of the Chinese Qing dynasty.

The Bogd Khan, Mongolia’s Buddhist spiritual leader, declared the country;s independence in 1911 upon the fall of the Qing dynasty. The new Chinese government, however, still considered “ Outer Mongolia” as part of the republic and used the Russian Revolution in October 1919 as a pretext to  occupy the territory. Bolshevik Russia supported the formation of a communist Mongolian government and army, which expelled the Chinese forces. The Mongolian People’s Government was declared in 1921, and after the Bogd Khan’s death in 1924, the full independence of the Mongolia’s People’s Republic was declared.

The new republic was strongly influenced by the Soviet Union. The dictator Khorloogiin Choibalsan, who ruled from 1928 to 1952, collectivized livestock,destroyed Buddist monasteries, and purged tens of thousands of citizens, mainly monks. Mongolia continued to side with Moscow even after the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s, with tens of thousands of Soviet troops stationed in Mongolia in the 1980s.

Protests and hunger strikes orchestrated by the Mongolian Democratic Union toppled the communist government in 1990. The constitution was amended to allow opposition parties, and multi-party elections were held in the same year. The former state party, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, retained power until 1996, when it lost in elections and peacefully relinquished control. Since then Mongolia’s young democracy has seen sporadic political crises, but is currently characterized by relatively little violence and a healthy consensus for multiparty politics.

Having ended decades of communist rule in 1990, Mongolia is governed by a mixed presidential- parliamentary system. The candidates for the presidency are nominated by the single chamber, 76-seat parliament, known as the head of state and chief of the armed forces and are obliged to appoint as prime minister the candidate presented to him by the parliamentary majority.

The prime minister appoints a cabinet that must be approved by the State Great Khural. Parliamentary elections are also held every four years. While Mongolia has long legal tradition stretching back to the yasa (written code of law) of Chinggis Khan, the contemporary legal system has been strongly influenced by that of the Soviet Union.

Mongolia is administratively divided into 21 regions, known as aimag, with the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, operating as an independent municipality. Each province  elects a local khural to parliament and is  sub-divides into administrative bodies.

The country is fairly ethnically homogenous, with approximately 95% OF THE POPULATION BEING OF Mongol origin, around 90% of whom are from the Khalkha dialect of Mongol. According to figures from 2004, approximately half of the Mongolian population is Buddhistt Lamaist, a sect of Tibetan Buddhism. There is also a Sunni Muslim minority made up of the Kazakh minority-that comprises around 4% of the population. In addition, small Shamanist and Christian communities exist, with most Christians subscribing to Protestant denominations. The constitution and the government both provide for freedom of worship.


Mongolia is also rapidly playing catch up with the legislative frameworks necessary to cement its pro- tree- market agenda, while engaging in a challenging yet unavoidable balancing act between the interest of its giant, and competing, neighbors: Russia and China.

In 1921, Mongolia became the second country in the world to declare itself a socialist people’s republic. A strong tie to Russia (then the Soviet Union) began to  develop, with a single- party state, led by the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party ( MPRP), set up to govern the country.
This helped secure Mongolian independence from China, which also made the country into something of a Soviet satellite. Major purges were carried out in the 1930s, following the orders of the Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, with the year 1937 seeing some 27,000 people executed or “disappeared’. Many of these were Buddhist monks. One other high profile casualty of the purge was Peljidiin Genden, the Mongolian Prime Minister (PM) at the time, who had argued with Stalin, protesting against the killings. Anandyn Amar, Genden’s successor as PM, was also executed during the purges.

In 1992, following victory in 1990 foe the MPRP against a much-divided opposition in the country’s first general elections, a new constitution was drawn up. This replaced the old Soviet system with a single chamber parliament of 76 seats, known as the State Great Khural (SGKh) –khural meaning “assembly” or meeting.

Prior to the 1996 elections, an amendment to the new constitution was also passed, making each of the 76 seats elected from a single constituency, with a first-past the-post method employed. Elections in 2000 and 2004 were also held on this basis, although another amendment prior the 2008 ballot established 26 electoral  districts with multiple seats, instead of 76 single- member constituencies. All members of the SGKh are elected now for four- year terms, with the voting age set at 18, and 25 years being the age at which one can run for office. The SGKh elects a chair, who acts as speaker as well as a member of the powerful National Security Council (NSC). The SGKh makes nominations for president, with these candidates then elected independently by national ballot. The leader of the winning party in the SGKh is then nominated to the post of PM in constitution with the president. The nomination for prime minister must then be confirmed by a vote in the SGKh. The SGKh has the normal powers of a parliamentary legislature, with legislation proposed by the government having to be passed by its members. It votes on the budget, can declare war and can override presidential vetoes, although only with a two- thirds majority. It can also vote to dissolve itself, also given a two- thirds majority, the same number of votes needed to change the constitution.

Without a second chamber or upper house, this role is in some ways taken on by the president. The holder of this office is elected for a four-year term, with a two-term limit, and is the head of state, the armed forces and NSC. Furthermore, the present also proposes who will serve as PM and is able to initiate and veto legislation. 
The PM, meanwhile, also has executive powers. While nominated by the president, the premier has to be able to secure a majority in the SGKh, which also must give its approval to his or her government. The government currently consists of a cabinet of 12 ministers, in addition to the deputy PM, first deputy PM and the PM himself.
Thus, Mongolia has a political system that is something of a hybrid of presidential and parliamentary models. Some political analysts see this as a great strength, with the balancing act that results often praised for saving Mongolia from the drift into authoritarianism seen in many other former Soviet states in Asia. 

The Mongolian judiciary is headed by the Supreme Court (SC), while constitutional issues are dealt with by the Constitutional Court. SC justices are nominated for presidential and GSKh  approval by the General Council of Courts (GCC), with 12 subordinate judges and a chief judge currently serving. The SC is the final destination for all appeals from the lower courts, while it may also hear human rights cases referred to it by the prosecutor general. The lower courts consist of aimag (provincial) courts, city courts, soum (county), and inter –soum courts and district courts. The 1992 constitution also allowed for the establishment of a number of specialized courts with jurisdiction in criminal, civil and administrative matters, with these courts not under the supervision of the SC. 

Regulations then passed in 2004 established a system of administrative courts, with each aimag possessing one, and with the Administrative  Chamber of the SC acting as both a final court of appeal and as the intermediate court of appeal (although the same judges are not permitted to hear both appeals). In 2011, this system was amended to establish the Administrative Court of Appeals, Which now sits to hear intermediate cases. 

With its vast terrain and challenging communications and transport networks, along with its  long tradition of nomadism and culture of self – reliance, Mongolia has always been somewhat de facto decentralized. This is likely to take a more concrete from in the period ahead, too. Decentralization has been a major political discussion for many years, with the government looking to  distribute authority and wealth more evenly around its 21 aimags and one municipality (Ulaanbaatar).

Each aimag, as well as the capital, has its own elected khural, which has the political power to nominate the aimag governor to the PM, who then appoints them for a four- year period.Each aimag is divided into a number of soum and each of these is divided into baghs. There are around 334 soums, each of with has a khural and a governor.  Many soums are inhabited by herders, with a soum centre providing the few permanent buildings in the whole country. Ulaanbaatar, meanwhile, is divided into districts and then into khoroos – the lowest formal administrative and territorial unit. 

Since 1990, sequential government regulations have established a high degree of responsibility for service provision at the local level, yet fiscal decentralization remains much less advanced. Governors, for example, do not have any powers when it comes to local taxation, but instead implement central government budgets and spending programs. There is, however, continuing debate over whether to change this, and grant more fiscal powers to the lower levels of governance.


Mongolia is forecasted to be one of the world’s fastest-growing marketplaces over the next two decades; Mongolia’s economy is developing rapidly. The country’s resource wealth and open, liberalized market are attracting increasing interest from international investors and putting it in the global spotlight.

The two big stories of 2011 are Oyu- Tolgoi (OT) and Tavan Tolgoi (TT). The former is a copper and gold mine commenced extraction in 2013 and containing estimated 37 m tones of copper and 1300 tonnes of gold. Making it the world’s largest undeveloped copper and gold project. The latter is a coal mine now ramping up production after years of below-capacity operation. TT hold approximately 7.5 bn tones of coal, making it by some estimates the world’s second-largest deposit.

These projects, and other mines which are already producing, are at the core of Mongolia’s rapidly growing economy. Exports are flowing strongly from the country to its resource-hungry neighbor, China. 

Public investment is rising quickly as the government looks to strengthen infrastructure and social services while spreading the benefits of wealth across the country. Ongoing fiscal reforms should also help underpin macroeconomic stability. Diversification efforts are gaining momentum, and trading and investment relations with a range of countries are continuing to deepen.

The government expects real growth of 25.6% in 2012, while the IMF is forecasting 11.8% for this figure. The first three quarters of 2011 brought a record 16.7% expansion, according to the Bank of Mongolia (BOM), making the country one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Mongolia’s GDP reached MNT8.25trn ($6.44bn) in 2010 at current prices, up MNT1.66trn ($1.29bn), or 25.3% on the previous year, according to the Mongolian Statistical Yearbook 2010, published by the National Statistical Office (NSO). However, growth in 2005 constant price terms (a more accurate indicator of true changes in the economy) was considerably lower, at 6.1%. According to the NSO, GDP per capita at current prices reached MNT2.99m ($2330). The economy is dominated by the private sector, which accounted for 73.4% in 2010, up 0.4 percentage points on 2009. Together, the three biggest sectors account for more than half of GDP: mining and quarrying (22.7%): agriculture, forestry and fishing (15.9%): and retail and wholesale trade, including auto repairs (15%). Other major sectors include manufacturing (8.5%), transportation and storage (8.3%), real estate (6.3%) and education (4.2%).

A sign of the country’s growing economic power and stability, Mongolia’s international reserves have grown strongly in recent years, reaching $ 2.09bn by the end of 2010, up 82.6% on 2009, having risen 79.7% that year. The crisis of 2008 sae reserves drop to $637m by year-and, at which point they would have covered 9.2 weeks of imports. By the end of 2010, they were equal to 33.3 weeks of imports (which had also risen rapidly, making the gain more impressive).

A 2011 report by economists Willem Buiter and Ebrahim Rahbari forecast that Mongolia would have the world’s highest growth rate over the next two decades. The study, published by financial firm Citigroup, predicts an annual average rate of 8.7% at purchasing power parity (PPP) to 2030, outstripping even India, China and Brazil. The “global growth generators” (3G) index developed by Buiter and Rahbari identified 11 countries with particularly strong growth and investment potential that could supersede the group known as “ BRIC plus South  Africa” ( Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).