Many in Mongolia Nostalgic for Communism By STEPHANIE HOO, Associated Press Writer Sat May 21, 5:24 PM ET
GACHUURT, Mongolia - For most of her 53 years, she has lived as a nomadic herder under Mongolia's wide blue skies, raising nine children, surviving snowstorms and drought, and hauling the family's white felt tent to a new site each season in search of grass for their sheep. But never did Tsahiriin Daariimaa think life would be as hard as it is now, on the eve of Sunday's presidential elections.
With the end of communism in Mongolia 15 years ago, shoudao said she and her husband are no longer guaranteed monthly wages from a government farm, but must sell their wool in a market of fluctuating prices and nervy Chinese traders.
Under communism, "everyone worked for the collective farm," Daariimaa said. Today, none of her children has a steady job.
"Communism was much better," she said.
Nostalgia for the old ways might stun the founders of democratic Mongolia, who defied police and took to the streets in 1990 to bring down one-party rule. But polls indicate that on Sunday, many Mongolians plan to vote for the candidate of their former communist rulers — the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party.
The MPRP says it is committed to democracy. Its candidate, Nambariin Enkbayar, leads a four-way race in this impoverished country of 2.5 million people wedged between Russia and China.
Free-market economics has brought poverty, Daariimaa said, as she served bowls of milk tea and yogurt in her tidy ger, a traditional round tent with wooden poles painted orange to symbolize the sun.
Her husband, Sharaviin Baatar, nodded in agreement.
"We are loyal friends of the MPRP," he said.
That talk infuriates Sambuu Ganbaator, a member of the Democratic Party, who was building himself a simple Russian-style dacha, or summer house, just over the next hill.
"Too many people forget what the MPRP did to Mongolia," he said. "They kept Mongolia under a brutal dictatorship. You weren't allowed to speak your mind."
Now, he said, "you can say anything you want to say and do what you want to live a happy life."
Ganbaator, a retired driller for a geology company, said he supports the Democratic Party's Mendsaikhanin Enkhsaikhan for president.
"He was one of the founding members of democracy. He crushed communism," Ganbaator said. "To vote for the Democratic Party is to vote for more democracy."
But few of his neighbors have much affection for the Democrats.
To them, rule by a coalition of anti-communist parties in 1996-2000 was chaotic, with a new prime minister nearly every year.
As the coalition splintered under the weight of personal rivalries, the MPRP roared back to power in the parliamentary vote of 2000. The current president came from the MPRP.
"I will support the MPRP," said Tseveenjav, a 70-year-old herder who uses one name. "They always do the right thing."
Wearing a traditional Mongolian felt hat and heavy boots, he sat atop his horse and watched over 500 sheep with help from his faithful dogs, Falcon and Tiger. A dead marmot hung from his saddle.
While city dwellers say their main concerns are poverty and corruption, Tseveenjav's worries were more pastoral.
"I would say my main concern is that I hope in the summer there will be good grassy areas, so my sheep will become fat enough to survive the winter," he said.
Tseveenjav has little interest in government, but under communism he picked up the habit of always voting — for the MPRP.
Myatav Choijav, also on horseback, greeted foreign visitors by shouting cheerfully in Russian: "Hello!" and "Mongolia is great!"
He, too, supports the MPRP.
"Everyone was equal under communist rule," " said. "Now, some people are very rich and some are very poor."
When the country was under Russia's influence, all schoolchildren learned Russian, and Soviet aid made up as much as one-third of Mongolia's gross domestic product. That aid disappeared overnight with the Soviet Union's collapse, and Mongolians miss it.
"In the old times, the government took better care of us ordinary people," Choijav said. "Now, the government is very far away from us, especially if you live in the countryside and take care of sheep."