Kennedy School Graduate Guides Mongolia into New Era

Not every Mongolian can go to KSG. I'd like to share what I learned with those that cannot.” — Prime Minister Elbegdorj Tsakhia

January 5, 2005
by Scott Talan

A politician rarely gets a second chance, especially in a newly developing democracy like Mongolia. This sprawling nation of 2.7 million people, known for its legendary ruler Genghis Khan, its wide-open countryside and the nomadic ways of its people, has hardly developed the reputation for political resurrection.

But Prime Minister Elbegdorj Tsakhia MPA 02 represents great change in Mongolian politics. A stalemate reached last year between the nation’s two main political parties led to a power-sharing agreement called the “Grand Coalition Government,” and with that Tsakhia was asked to return to the prime minister’s chair that he had briefly held six years earlier.

"You cannot prepare for politics," said Tsakhia, about the unpredictable nature of public life. During a recent interview in Mongolia’s capital of Ulaan Baatar, he spoke freely about his hopes and the large challenges before him.

The prime minister is moving ahead with and has recently won support for key elements of the Government’s “Plan of Action.” The plan’s goals range from boosting tourism to establishing English as the official second language to reorganizing important aspects of Mongolia’s governing structure and political process.

As part of his effort to lure more visitors, Tsakhia would like to ease the process for getting a visa and establish a new ministry for tourism.

Tsakhia is also looking to free the restraints on the news media in order to “give more voice to people,” he said.

Additionally, Tsakhia would like to bring more high technology to a nation notorious for relying on low-tech methods. While there are more and more cellular phones sprouting up in Mongolian’s hands, many lack even a basic telephone line.

“Technology can make us more equal,” said Tsakhia. Moving toward “e-government” will improve efficiency, he said, and “get rid of paper” and the bureaucracy that goes along with it.

Tsakhia, who was educated in the former Soviet Union during the era of Kremlin control of Mongolia , is considered one of the primary architects of the nation’s democratic evolution.

The lingering legacy of relying on the former Soviet Union for economic support is still felt throughout the nation as it grapples with the effects of globalization and the ever-growing power of nearby China. But because he has support from the two main Mongolian political parties Tsakhia believes he now has an historic opportunity to bring about great change.

Democratic reform is something Tsakhia learned about while studying at the Kennedy School in 2002. Following his graduation from KSG, Tsakhia returned home and gave a series of lectures to sold-out crowds focusing on leadership, technology and the future. The talks were so popular that ticket prices quadrupled and the lectures were later recorded onto tapes.

“Not every Mongolian can go to KSG,” Tsakhia said. “I'd like to share what I learned with those that cannot.”

And referring to his Kennedy School class ring, which he prominently displays on his left hand, Tsakhia said: “I’m proud of this ring and wear it all the time.”

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2002 MPA Mid-Career classmates image

(Photo: left to right) 2002 MPA Mid-Career classmates Weidong Fu, Mongolian Prime Minister Elbegdorj Tsakhia, and Scott Talan meet in Mongolia's capital of Ulaan Baatar.