Today, Mongolia voted in legislative elections under unusual – and worrying – circumstances. At the last such election four years ago, a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system was used for the first time, replacing multi-seat plurality. This system was supposed to be used again this year, but a court ruling in April invalidated the party-list PR tier, leading the legislature to enact a last-minute election law, returning the country to a plurality system.
The MMM electoral system first used in 2012 included 48 seat elected by plurality (mostly out of 2-seat districts, it seems) and 28 by nationwide closed-list PR. The country’s electoral system had already been in flux since the country’s move towards democracy, and has switched back and forth between different types of plurality voting, which seems to have led to a number of bad experiences The 2012 election resulted in a weakening of the main parties, the entry of a number of new parties, and no overall majority by any single party. The Democratic Party governed in coalition with two smaller parties until November 2014, when the main opposition party, the People’s Party, joined the government in a ‘grand coalition’ (Mongolia is premier-presidential).
On April 21st, just over two months before Election Day and after all electoral deadlines had already passed, the Constitutional Court ruled that the party-list system was unconstitutional. The argument was that election using party lists somehow does not constitute direct election because lists are put together by the parties and (in the case of closed lists) allow no input by voters other than the choice between different lists.
As Matthew and I have argued a number of times on this blog, elections by party list are most definitely forms of direct election, closed or otherwise. It makes no more sense to see election from party list where M=10 as ‘indirect election’ than the same thing where M=1, which is effectively the same as plurality. Since I am far from expert on Mongolian constitutional law, I cannot speak directly to the ruling itself. However, there can be no doubt that the timing was highly questionable, as it made any effective remedy almost impossible, and abuse (or at least opportunism) by the political parties very likely. It sets a dangerous precedent.
Unsurprisingly, the new electoral law in reaction to the ruling was supported by both main parties; as the Washington Post puts it, “One can only presume that politicians from both major parties were keen to drop the party list vote because they are well aware of voters’ growing disappointment with them.” This outcome certainly disadvantages the smaller parties. Had the ruling come earlier, the smaller parties might at least have had the chance to protest and attempt to secure some concessions. However, perhaps this analysis is a little unfair to the parties in the legislature. As it happened, the ruling did not come earlier, and as the constitution forbids constitutional amendments this close to an election, it’s difficult to see what real alternative they had. This should probably go down as one of the worst electoral system-related court rulings ever.
 What plurality system exactly? Sources differ. Some suggest it’s a return to the 2008 multiple-seat plurality, others a return to the 1996-2004 single-seat plurality, others yet suggest the only change to the current electoral law is the removal of the 28 PR seats, leaving only 48 seats elected by plurality, mainly from 2-seaters.
 Not exactly plurality, as a candidate must receive 28% of the vote to be elected, a rule left-over from the previous systems. A ‘second round’ or ‘by-election’ (sources differ) is held if no candidate reaches 28%.
 The specific sources of unhappiness among Mongolians with the results over the years are unclear to me, but casual observations do show there was quite some vagaries over the years (with both very lopsided majorities, and minority parliaments), and, in the 2008 case of multiple-seat plurality, the count was deeply opaque.