Ukhnaa Khurelsukh was unanimously elected prime minister in October after his predecessor, Jargaltulga Erdenebat, was ousted by parliament following corruption allegations.
He is a former army colonel, the president of a Harley-Davidson fan club and Mongolia’s new prime minister. Ukhnaa Khurelsukh was unanimously elected prime minister in October after his predecessor, Jargaltulga Erdenebat, was ousted by parliament following corruption allegations.
Khurelsukh, who was nicknamed “Fist” after punching a fellow lawmaker in 2012, is often likened to Russian president Vladimir Putin, as he likes to pose for photographs while hunting or riding horseback.
A member of the ruling Mongolia People’s Party who has served twice as the country’s deputy prime minister, Khurelsukh, 49, faces a number of daunting economic challenges.
“After tremendous growth rates that peaked at 17.5% real GDP in 2011, Mongolia experienced difficult times during 2012–2016 due to mismanagement, stagnation of big or mega investment projects and excessive commercial borrowing under the Democratic Party government,” says Khashchuluun Chuluundorj, an economics professor at the National University of Mongolia. He adds, “Given that 90% of the country’s exports are destined for the Asia-Pacific region, his economic priority is to revive stagnating trade with China, Mongolia’s largest market, and to strengthen investment ties with Japan, Mongolia’s largest aid donor and investor, and South Korea, with which Mongolia shares extensive labor relations.”
Another crucial test for Khurelsukh will be ensuring the smooth implementation of the International Monetary Fund’s Extended Fund Facility program after the country secured, earlier this year, the financing equivalent of half its $11 billion GDP. Chuluundorj is optimistic: “As a former military officer, Khurelsukh possesses natural leadership skills. His background also taught him about the importance of his team, and he was able to assemble a relatively experienced cabinet team, in which public finances and other ministerial positions were given to politicians with a clean and professional public service record.”
While Khurelsukh’s rise as the leader of a land dominated by steppes and mountains might not make too many headlines given rising tensions surrounding North Korea, his international profile could grow significantly.
Mongolia holds strong diplomatic ties with all key regional players in Central Asia, notes Chuluundorj, and it has often served as a mediator between Pyongyang and other nations. In foreign relations, he adds, Mongolia was also able to cooperate with both the United States and Russia on military issues and promote free trade with Japan while boosting commerce with China.