The Mongolian Citizens’ Hall provides the means to receive, consider and incorporate public suggestions and concerns into draft legislation being considered by the parliament, and when necessary, to help facilitate consensus among social groups, factions, and political forces.
Problems and Purpose
Just twenty years after the fall of its authoritarian government, Mongolia began experiencing the political malaise typically associated with more established democracies such as voter fatigue and public disengagement. The founding of the national Citizens’ Hall in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, in 2009 was seen as a way to rectify these problems before they become entrenched and to facilitate the solidification of a participatory form of democracy.
Establishing a tradition of citizen engagement and policy making via public consultation and political consensus is essential to stamp out the corrupting influences and culture of hierarchical and elitist rule that survived the early phases of Mongolia's democratic transition. Embracing participatory democratic reforms early in the political transition is thus part of a general turn from the former years of autocracy and communist dictatorship. Later, provincial-level Citizen Halls have been developed.
Background History and Context
The ability for citizens to participate in Mongolia's political sphere is a new concept, introduced as the country abruptly emerged as a democracy after nearly seven decades of Soviet domination and dictatorial rule. Indeed, citizen participation and, in fact, the very idea of a self-determining socio-polity has been lacking in Mongolia throughout its history. For the centuries preceding the twentieth, Mongolia was ruled from China by the Qing dynasty. Between 1911 and 1919, Mongolia briefly declared its independence, although the newly established Republic of China still considered it to be part of their territory. From 1924 onwards, the Mongolian People’s Republic was a satellite state of the Soviet Union. Mongolia remained a centralised communist state for the next seven decades. Thus, before 1990 (and to a large extent, after), power in Mongolia had either been exercised by foreign domination or by a small number of elites. The ideas of democracy, deliberation, and consensus building were alien to the vast majority of Mongolians.
When Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika reforms acted as a catalyst to end the Eastern Bloc during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the reforms also reverberated as far east as Mongolia. Just a month after the fall of the Berlin Wall, public rallies in Ulaanbaatar began to demand democratic reform. Under relentless pressure from organized groups in what has become known as the Mongolian or Democratic Revolution, the communist government allowed for the country’s first multi-party elections to be held in July 1990. After winning the vote, the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party took control of the government and declared Mongolia a parliamentary democracy.
The formulation of the country’s new constitution was accompanied by vigorous public debate. Although suppressed under authoritarian rule, education was well implemented and Mongolia had a literacy rate comparable to those of Western democracies at the time. Quickly, citizens lined up at local telegraph offices to contact the capital and share their views on the proposed content and wording the charter. The resulting 1992 constitution established government at the provincial, district, city and neighbourhood level, yet in reality Mongolia remained - and continues to be - a centralised government. The ineffective nature of these provisions meant that the level of interaction between elected representatives and citizens was poor. Consequently, citizen satisfaction with the national government in the capital Ulaanbaatar was low and, lacking the mechanisms to demand and enforce transparency and accountability, an atmosphere of political distrust pervaded Mongolian society. As well, with few or weak institutions and official channels of public participation, no other laws of policy issues were discussed or debated between government officials and members of the public until the inception of the Citizens’ Hall in the fall of 2009.
President Elbegdorj Tsakhia, who was elected in 2009, vacated his former office inside the State Palace to establish the Citizens’ Hall as a permanent venue for public hearings on draft laws, the first of which would be the draft Press Law.
The initial response that ensued — criticism by other members of government — illustrates the challenges of participatory democracy in Mongolia. Prominent politicians decried the participation of “ordinary citizens” in a discussion of legal affairs, arguing that only a panel of experts should be allowed to comment on draft laws. Unswayed, the ruling party continued its plans for the Hall and opened it to the public discussion of more topics and policy.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Citizens’ Hall cost $70,000 to establish and now receives a modest undisclosed operating budget from the state. The Hall itself occupies a physical venue located in the State Palace ('Government House') in Ulaanbaatar, the building that houses the president’s office and the parliament. The running of the Hall is overseen by a small team employed by the office of the President.
The success of the Citizens’ Hall eventually led to its exportation to the provinces. Mr. L Gunchin, the Chairman of the Darkhan-Uul province suggested to the national parliament in Ulaanbaatar that similar mechanisms of civic participation be established outside of the capital. In April 2010, Darkhan-Uul became the first province to form a Citizens’ Hall, which by September 2010 had some support from the Asia Foundation, including support and training for civic participation.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
There are three actors in the Citizens’ Hall discussions: the legislators, the drafters and the citizens. In theory, the open structure of the Citizens’ Hall allows any one of Mongolia’s 2.7 million citizens to participate. The drafters prepare an abstract and are responsible for publicising it, along with the date and time of the discussion.[5, Procedure 4.1] The date and topic for discussion is publicised three weeks in advance[5, Procedure 4.2] so that enough time is afforded for citizens to mobilise themselves for the discussion. There is no requirement to speak at a discussion[5, Procedure 6.1] but those who wish to contribute directly are required to submit a preference to speak five working days before the discussion is scheduled.[5, Procedure 6.2]
At the hearings, citizens are also given the ability to entrust their speaking time to a representative from their interest group, community or sector. The coordinating team also accepts inputs from those who cannot attend by post, fax, e-mail or on the Web site for the Citizens’ Hall, and responds to questions and requests for clarification about the proposed legislation. In theory, these provisions enable the participation or contribution of rural and nomadic citizens and others who reside outside of Ulaanbaatar. However, despite the ability to submit written comments through the post or online, few participants come from rural areas and most reside in the state's capital.
Other events held by the Citizens' Hall aim to improve the deliberation skills of Mongolians more generally and, perhaps because they are less formal, provisions have been made to include specific groups from minority or marginalized sectors, such as a forum to allow students to discuss education policy with the relevant government officials.
Methods and Tools Used
First and foremost, the Citizens’ Hall hosts public hearings on proposed legislation, regulations and decrees. The procedures for the Citizens’ Hall were issued on 31st August 2009. These procedures set out forty-nine principles of governance and state that transparent and open discussions between elected members, legislation drafters and citizens are key in order to achieve the aim of improving local and national governance in Mongolia. The overarching directive of the Citizens’ Hall is to “...receive, consider and incorporate citizens’ suggestions and concerns with respect to the policies and decisions of the President of Mongolia and State institutions...” [5, Procedure 1]
The discussions consist of three parties: participants, drafters of the proposal to be discussed, and the coordinating staff. Each speaker is allotted 3-5 minutes to present to the discussion.[5, Procedure 8.2] Before speaking, the drafter introduces the proposals of the speaker to the discussion. All the speakers then present according to their slot. Citizens present first, followed by any independent experts, witnesses, government or international organisation experts. After this process, questions are invited from the room.[5, Procedure 8.5] Speakers then have one minute to make any closing remarks.[5, Procedure 8.6] A speech by the chairperson concludes the discussion.[5, Procedure 8.7]
Tolerance and respect are encouraged in the discussions, and facilitators are trained not to ask any question that might be construed as an attempt to censor the content of the speeches.
The media plays an important role by transmitting the proceedings live on television and radio, and with extensive coverage in the written press. After each hearing, an archive of the statements and suggestions made by citizens is prepared, including those submitted remotely, and submitted to the adviser responsible for drafting the law.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
In December 2009, the President of Mongolia, Elbegdorj Tsakhia, formally opened the Citizens’ Hall. Whilst the citizens in the Citizens’ Hall do not have any law making powers, it serves to forge citizen engagement through a consultation procedure that is open to any one of Mongolia’s 2.7 million citizens. The Citizens’ Hall involves citizens in the drafting process so they are only allowed to comment on legislation and policy topics proposed in parliament.
The first public discussion in the Citizens’ Hall in Ulaanbaatar took place on 13th January 2010 and was held on the topic of freedom of the press. The Office for the President of Mongolia reported that: “79 citizens registered with [the] office to participate in the discussions, 33 citizens in the morning part had expressed their views in person, and some 20 citizens participated in the afternoon.”
As of the 21st July 2010, and the Citizens’ Hall nomination for the Reinhard Mohn prize (2010), a reported total of 985 citizens had participated. In August 2010, the Office for the President of Mongolia reported that the Citizens’ Hall had held discussions on ten areas of draft legislation, prompting 32 discussions, during which 367 proposals had been collected from over 2,000 citizens. Topics selected by the government for public consideration and proposal in the Hall include: a Law on Press Freedom, Judiciary Law, a Law on Financing Higher Education and Scholarships, Benefits, and Social Guarantees of Students, Budgetary Law and Criminal Law.
As well as formal draft legislation discussions, the Citizens’ Hall also holds events that focus on the wider aim of increasing the quality of deliberation among Mongolian citizens. Two such events have included ‘Supporting Micro Businesses’ and ‘How Can We Influence Policy Making?’. There are also motions that are given extra emphasis from government to include marginalised groups. For example, a platform with education ministers allowed students to discuss how education policy could be improved. Around 40% of participants were from outside of Ulaanbaatar. A discussion on natural resource extraction is reported to have included illegal miners, thus in some circumstances extending deliberation to some of the most marginalised.
None of the discussions have got beyond the draft stage to be approved and written into law by Parliament, but it is reported that drafts have been influenced by discussions.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The national Citizens' Hall is a very idealistic undertaking, seeking to establish a tradition of citizen engagement, to improve policies with public consultation, strengthen the implementation of policies through consensus building and public awareness, and, finally, to lessen the influence of upper-class and pre-transition high-ranking officials who continue to adhere to the notion that policy and governance are under the remit purely of a vanguard elite.
Four months after the Citizens’ Hall opened in Ulaanbaatar, it was suggested that the concept of the Citizens’ Hall be exported to the provinces. Therefore in April 2010, the Darkhan-Uul province became the first area outside of the capital to stage its own Citizens’ Hall.
Including any citizen in policy process in Mongolia is a step toward greater inclusion. That said, the project has been able to attract special groups, such as illegal miners and youth. In the discussions of the micro-business law, for example, representatives of illegal miners were encouraged to attend the discussion as well as women’s groups affiliated with cottage industries. The Citizens’ Hall has also cooperated with an NGO-led project that sought input from students around the country on how to improve their schools. The President invited the finalists of this country-wide competition to present their ideas at the Citizens’ Hall, in the presence of high-level officials from the Ministry of Education and parliamentarians, and broadcast on national television. About 40 per cent of the participating children were from rural areas.
As of 2011, there had been thirty discussions covering nine laws at the national Citizens’ Hall. While none of the laws discussed have been approved by Parliament, many draft laws have been influenced by the process.
The discussion of the Press Law has generated vigorous debate about the role of the state in journalistic ethics. Participants of that hearing questioned the law’s proposal that the government establish a press ethics committee, which would seek to prevent disputes over press ethics from involving police and the judicial system. Opponents suggested that such a committee should be set up voluntarily by representatives of the trade. The submission of the draft law has been delayed so that the issue can be further debated at a series of roundtables between the drafters of the law and journalists.
Another major impact may come with the Law on State Budget. Following the Citizens’ Hall, the Ministry of Finance, which is sponsoring the law to reform spending policies, has agreed to incorporate a provision that would require all local budgets to be discussed by residents of the area before being approved. Currently, budget planning, even for local municipalities, is done entirely in the country’s capital.
Changing Attitudes and Opinions
The greatest effect of the Citizens' Hall may be made on the outlook of Mongolian politicians. Formerly dismissive of the views of ordinary citizens, leaders are now being forced to acknowledge that members of the public hold innovative ideas and valuable knowledge, and that they are capable of sharing these articulately in public discussion. This is opening the way for many more forms of citizen engagement in Mongolia.
As well, allowing citizens to contribute to the process of drafting laws has been proven effective for democratic decision-making in various contexts. For example, open forums of discussion “help facilitate consensus building among the social groups, factions, and political forces,” encourage citizen deliberation and debate of national political issues, and build a culture of democratic participation and sense of agency.
Awards and Recognition
The Citizens' Hall was nominated for the Reinhard Mohn prize in 2010 in recognition of its creation and encouragement of debate in the public sphere. This formal recognition by an outside, non-governmental body suggests that the Citizens’ Hall is having desirable outcomes in furthering participation and democratic values outside its immediate vicinity. Taking into account Mongolia’s colourful route to democracy, this is a desirable development and satisfies the wider aims. This is further highlighted by the fact that Citizens’ Hall discussions are broadcast on television and radio, as well as covered by the press. There also exists evidence that further devolvement of power has occurred as a direct consequence of Citizens’ Hall discussion. According to the Reinhard Mohn prize nomination:
“Following the Citizens’ Hall, the Ministry of Finance, which is sponsoring the law to reform spending policies, has agreed to incorporate a provision that would require all local budgets to be discussed by residents of the area before being approved. Currently, budget planning, even for local municipalities, is done entirely in the country’s capital.” 
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Initially some politicians advocated that such deliberative roles should only be for themselves or experts, however since the creation of the Citizens’ Hall that attitude has been challenged. Legislators and drafters can potentially hear a wide range of citizen views over the course of a discussion, enabling officials to take into account a broader range of interests. The rigid manner in which citizens participate means that contributions are presented on an equal platform, which does not allow dominant individuals or groups to impose themselves upon discussions. Discussions are designed so that each speaker, in effect, leads the discussion for the allotted time by answering questions and making a closing statement. This is likely to forge a sense of deeper contribution rather than moving on straight after an initial statement. While it offers citizens the chance to influence legislation, and marks considerable progress for participation in Mongolia, there are some constraints.
There is no mechanism for citizens to propose drafts for the agenda. The role of the citizen is to discuss the law in the presence of its creators, who may or not decide to alter the draft legislation. Consequently transparency and accountability [5, Procedure 2.1] may be hard to measure. However, this form of encouraging deliberation is crucial, and possibly even a necessary precursor to more definitive legislative mechanisms. In this context, the Citizens’ Hall seeks to familiarise Mongolians in the art of democratic deliberation. If that is the case, can the design features be regarded as conducive to that aim? Can they be improved?
While the Citizens’ Hall is not directly biased or exclusive toward any group, there are indicators that the design favours those with relatively higher levels of education and resources. The forty-nine procedures issued by the government assert that transparent and open discussions between elected members, legislation drafters and citizens are key to improving local and national governance in Mongolia. However some commentators have suggested party politics may have been a factor in creating the Citizens’ Hall and its procedures. Other aspects of the Hall's procedures indicate favouritism — conscious or unconscious — toward those individuals and groups with more education or experience in formal debate and understanding of political or legal processes. Not only is this evident in the need to formulate a careful analyse draft legislation, but also in the length of time allocated to speakers: between 3-5 minutes and 1 minute in which to make closing remarks. This length of time requires speakers to be highly skilled and make concise arguments. This is supported by the notion that in the first devolved Citizens’ Hall discussion in the Darkhan-Uul province on public health, where 20 of the 28 participants had attended higher education institutions. Furthermore, participating through registering would tend to suggest those who contribute have a particular concern, organised interests or perhaps a polar opinion. Thus, there is the possibility that a disproportionate level of opinion may cloud a consensus.
Therefore, it could be suggested that in its current state, the Citizens’ Hall suffers from the ‘usual suspects’ problem. This is compounded by the involvement of government officials, researchers, experts and representatives of organisations who are invited to the open debate, and have a greater capacity from their professional experience to influence proceedings. According to the China Post (2010), creating the Citizens Hall was part of a concerted effort on behalf of the governing party to ‘consolidate its young democracy’. The governing party, which before 2010 had been known as the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, enacted a subtle rebranding exercise by renaming itself the Mongolian People's Party and thus eliminating the word ‘Revolutionary’, in order to “connect with the Mongolians who want freer and unorthodox lifestyle. The purpose is to win the next election scheduled in 2012”. The Citizens’ Hall has been interpreted as a move to increase the likelihood of the Mongolian People's Party being re-elected in 2012, by introducing governance frameworks that by western standards, would be more democratic and inclusive, hence moving away from notions of centralised elitism.
However, aspects can be added to the design in order to reduce the ‘usual suspects’ problem and increase the extent and quality of deliberation. In the Darkhan-Uul Citizens’ Hall, the design structure has been the subject of some debate among attendees. A participant was reported as suggesting that each neighbourhood hold an advanced meeting to discuss the agenda in smaller groups, and then possibly send representatives to the meeting at the Citizens’ Hall. This illustrates the extent to which the current design has engaged, but could be improved upon — particularly the quality and quantity of the deliberation. This development may increase engagement at a more local level where attendance is likely to be greater, which in turn would be likely to increase the overall depth of deliberation.
Although the Citizens’ Hall has been exported to the province of Darkhan-Uul, thereby increasing inclusivity, there still remain significant geographical barriers. One third of those who reside outside Ulaanbaatar live in rural and nomadic settings. Thus, publicising the idea of the Citizens’ Hall, let alone topics for discussion, is a barrier to not only participation but even knowledge of the innovation. Citizens from outside of Ulaanbaatar can send a letter, fax, email or contribute some form of deliberation through the Citizens’ Hall website. However it is unlikely to receive the same rhetorical application and presentation when compared to a personal address. Contributing by proxy also takes away any value that a set of closing remarks may have on a discussion, further limiting its worth. However in some areas, the government has made an effort to include and directly engage those who reside outside of the capital, as with some discussions on education.
It does appear that the Citizens’ Hall has been successful when taking into account its wider objectives, namely to accelerate and familiarise Mongolian citizens with forms of democratic deliberation, discussion and consensus building. But this is a gradual process. The Citizens’ Hall has seen moves away from central command and control forms of democracy to devolving some decision-making functions. This is evident in the manner in which it seems to have decreased the role of centralised state budgeting, and consequently increased local decision making powers, including the first Citizens’ Hall outside of Ulaanbaatar.
The Citizens’ Hall is a necessary start to facilitating Mongolian citizens in the concepts of democratic discussion and deliberation. It has many questionable design aspects. It is nevertheless progress towards less centralised forms of democratic engagement. In this context, further devolving decisions by enacting more Citizens’ Halls in other geographic locations and the notion of devolving budget decisions  would suggest there is future scope, not only for more participatory mechanisms, but also for more effective and indeed legislative design features. This is more likely to occur if the Citizens’ Hall becomes more prevalent, thus increasing the culture of deliberation. The framework of involving legislators, drafters, citizens as well other experts would suggest it satisfies the criteria to enact some legislative functions, with a particular emphasis on partnerships and/or elements of participatory budgeting through the deliberative partnerships that these groups can form.
Town Hall (method)
Public Hearing (method)
 Parliamentary Network on the World Bank (2009) Good Governance, Transparency and Participation: Meeting Development Challenges in Mongolia, World Bank. Available from: http://www.pnowb.org/sites/default/files/Report_PNoWB_FV_Mongolia_FINAL_12NOV09.pdf [Accessed 14/04/11]
 Failor, T. (2010) ‘Shaping Mongolia’s Urban Future’, Asia Foundation. Available from: http://asiafoundation.org/in-asia/2010/12/08/shaping-mongolias-urban-future/ [Accessed 14/04/11]
 The Asia Foundation (2011). Local Governance Programs in Mongolia. [online] Available from: https://asiafoundation.org/resources/pdfs/MGLocalGovernancev2.pdf [Accessed 14/04/11]
 Reinhard Mohn prize nomination (2010) Citizens’ Hall [online], issued 21/07/2010. Available from: http://www.vitalizing-democracy.org/discoursemachine.php?page=detail&id_item=310&detail_layout_field=itemtype_layoutmisc4&menucontext=4 [Accessed 14/04/11] [DEAD LINK]
 Office of the President of Mongolia (2009) Procedures for the Citizens’ Hall under the President of Mongolia [online], issued 31/08/09. Available from: http://www.president.mn/eng/civilHall/civil-hall-procedures.php [Accessed 14/04/11] [DEAD LINK]
 Office of the President of Mongolia (2010a) Canadian Teachers Visit Citizens’ Hall [online], issued 06/08/10. Available from: http://www.president.mn/eng/newsCenter/viewNews.php?newsId=326 [Accessed 14/04/10] [DEAD LINK]
 Office of the President of Mongolia (2010) The Citizens’ Hall under President of Mongolia held its first public discussion on the draft law on Freedom of Press [online], issued 13/01/10. Available from: http://www.president.mn/eng/newsCenter/viewNews.php?newsId=123 [Accessed 14/04/10] [DEAD LINK]
 Chongkittavorn, K. (2010) Mongolia consolidates its young democracy. The China Post, issued 11/10/2010. Available from: https://chinapost.nownews.com/20101011-121176 [Accessed 14/04/11]
President of Mongolia's web site
German Ambassador speaking at a Citizens' Hall
Remarks on the Citizens' Hall from the Asia Foundation
The original version of this case study first appeared on Vitalizing Democracy in 2010 and was a contestant for the 2011 Reinhard Mohn Prize. It was originally submitted by Nick Benequista. Another version of this case was entered on Participedia by Andy H but its content was merged with this entry to avoid duplication.