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Mongolia: a democratic breakthrough?

Mongolia was once considered among the least likely of former communist nations to make a successful transition to democracy. But it now holds regular national elections and its economy is poised for growth.

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Mongolia, a formerly communist nation sandwiched between two autocratic and powerful neighbors, once seemed an unlikely candidate for democratic reform.

But while its mighty neighbors China and Russia are allowing authoritarian tendencies to diminish rule of law, impoverished Mongolia has persisted in building a more accountable government.

In one of the most underreported stories of 2009, Mongolia is forging ahead with reforms aimed at making its society more open and less subject to the endemic corruption that has plagued many former communist states.

Mongolia was once considered among the least likely of former communist nations to make a successful transition to democracy. But it now holds regular national elections under a mixed parliamentary-presidential system.

Peaceful protest

As a Washington Post correspondent based in Beijing in January 1990, I was astonished to find myself reporting on a small pro-democracy movement that had suddenly emerged in Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital.

Nearly 3,000 Mongolians, defying a ban on demonstrations, marched to the capital’s central square. They carried banners calling for glasnost and perestroika, the Russian words for then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of openness and restructuring. The marchers met no resistance from police.

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