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Classified By: Political Chief Andrew Covington, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
¶1. (C) Summary. Born to herders in western Mongolia,
Harvard-educated President-elect 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 has been 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. End Summary.
¶2. (SBU) 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.
GOLDEN SWALLOW OF DEMOCRACY
¶3. (SBU) 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.
¶4. (SBU) 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.
¶5. (C) 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 and was elected
Prime Minister in April 1998, but the weak Democratic
coalition dissolved and Elbegdorj resigned from his position
as Prime Minister under political pressure in December 1998.
With the Democratic coalition fragmented, the MPRP won an
overwhelming victory in the 2000 parliamentary election.
POSITIVE EXPERIENCES WITH U.S.
¶6. (SBU) Following a demoralizing loss in the 2000
parliamentary election, Elbegdorj and many of his DP
compatriots received scholarships to study in the U.S. 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.
¶7. (SBU) Elbegdorj has expressed positive views of the U.S.
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.”
¶8. (SBU) As Prime Minister, Elbegdorj also promoted the use
of English as the key foreign language in Mongolian schools
RETURN TO POLITICS
¶9. (SBU) Elbegdorj made his return to politics in 2004, when
he emerged as a compromise candidate for prime minister
following the 2004 parliamentary election (NOTE: Elbegdorj
did not run for a parliamentary seat in 2004 and was
therefore not a member of the 2004-2008 Parliament. END
NOTE). 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.
¶10. (SBU) 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
TIGHT-KNIT, LOW-PROFILE FAMILY
¶11. (SBU) 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.
¶12. (SBU) The couple has four sons and one daughter. Their
eldest son, Orgil, is 23 years old and a PhD student at
Virginia Commonwealth University. Erdene, 20, is a sophomore
biology major at Drexel University. Their two youngest sons
(Tserendorj, 10, and Tsend, 8) and their daughter (Anuujin,
16) are students at the American School of Ulaanbaatar.
Tsend was born in the U.S. when his father was studying at
Harvard, according to Embassy contacts. Anuujin was adopted
from a local orphanage.
¶13. (C) 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.
THE HERDERS’ SON TURNED POLITICIAN
¶14. (C) Embassy contacts have described Elbegdorj’s
countryside roots as being 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
¶15. (C) 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 prototypical 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.
SUSPICIOUS CAR ACCIDENT; TIES TO BATTULGA
¶16. (C) 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.
¶17. (C) According to Embassy contacts, then-DP MP and current
Minister of Construction, City Planning, Roads, and
Transportation Kh. Battulga paid for Elbegdorj’s medical
expenses, including treatment in South Korea. Ambassador
Minton called on Elbegdorj at his hospital in Ulaanbaatar
four days after the accident and found him in bed but with no
visible or apparent physical injuries. He was fully alert
and able to converse in English in a normal manner throughout
the Ambassador’s 20-minute call. 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.
OUTGOING, SOCIAL, AND FRIENDLY
¶18. (SBU) Embassy employees who have met with Elbegdorj
describe him as an outgoing, humble person who is comfortable
in almost any social setting and is friendly with
interlocutors, regardless of rank or status.
¶19. (SBU) Contacts also describe Elbegdorj as a risk-taker
and someone who puts others’ needs before his own; a
long-time Embassy employee recalls Elbegdorj accompanying
Embassy officials on a trip to deliver humanitarian
assistance to the countryside during a winter disaster in the
1990s. The road was snowed under, and Elbegdorj volunteered
to go ahead to check for alternate routes, despite freezing
conditions and deep snow.
¶20. (U) Elbegdorj speaks Russian and English.