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Visit to Mongolia and meeting with Mongolian Greens Party

Most Australians are vaguely aware of Mongolia, a vast country roughly the size of Queensland, located between two giants – Russia and China. I first noticed Mongolia as a Green when in the 1990s following the introduction of democracy, the MGP became the first Greens party in Asia. From 1996-2000 the party was in governing coalition with 3 other parties. Since that time the party fractured with another party Civil Will remaining in or close to government and the MGP struggling to gain attention.

Mongolia has a population of 3 million with rapid growth in the capital Ulaanbataar, now some 1.4 mil, in addition to a huge student population of 0.3 mil attending universities and colleges in the capital. Traditionally Mongolia is a country of nomads. It was Russia’s first satellite in the 1920’s and suffered from the Stalinist purges like many Central Asian states. It did however escape the worst of soviet excesses, such as intensive collectivisation, perhaps due to the fierce independence of the nomads and limited agricultural potential.

Mongolia has attracted attention from big miners due to its resource wealth, mainly copper, coal, gold and uranium. The MGP remains steadfastly opposed to uranium mining, part of the reason for the fracture with Civil Will and strongly believe the mining boom has brought little benefit to the people. Now that the boom, as in Australia, has peetered out, I was keen to discuss with members of the MGP Board, what was most pressing for them in the lead up to national elections in June 2016 and what Australian Greens might do to assist.

My meeting included a lively conversation with Party Chairman Boum , Head of International Relations, Batbayar and other party members responsible for media and Deeg for the young Greens. I was fortunate that most were fluent English speakers, and our talk focussed on the key issues and challenges they face.

Uranium and rare earth mining is a key concern for the environmental impacts and the  limited benefits of mining to the Mongolian people. Ulaanbataar has significant clean air and water problems. In a  continental climate that experiences extremes from +30 degrees in summers to -30 degrees in winter, coal burning in the ger suburbs of Ulaanbataar in winter is a major health and environmental problem. The lack of sewerage and pressure on the Tul river for water supply and disposal is an issue which only the MGP are raising.

While Mongolia is singularly distinct from all its post Soviet neighbours by having successfully transitioned to demoncracy in the 1990s, MGP are concerned about rising social inequality and moves to introduce electronic voting.

There is an extraordinarily high number of TV channels in Mongolia with most regional centres having at least 2 TV stations and well over 20 in the capital. All the major outlets are tied to political parties or interests. MGP struggle to get a voice in this saturated and unsympathetic media landscape. So their approach to the 2016 election? It’s back to the streets with members conducting street surveys every Sunday on people’s concerns. A focus on connecting with young people is being undertaken by Deeg. Like most places in the world, young people are very big users of social media. There is much that young Greens have in common to build and connect using social media platforms and I’m hopeful Deeg will get the chance to learn and share  from our campaign and networking experiences.

MGP are keen to learn from the Australian experiences with the mining industry. The lack of civil society organisations makes their job more difficult and pressing. They attach great importance to visits from our Australian MPs to raise awareness and bring them much needed publicity. Initial indications are that, elections aside, Sen Scott Ludlam might be there in coming months.

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