Ambitious Political Reforms Sweep Across Mongolian Plains

REFORMERS within Mongolia's ruling Communist Party are attempting the most ambitious political reforms in the history of the windswept Central Asian republic, Western experts say. Despite resistance from Marxist elders, experts say the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) plans to allow genuine multiparty elections, easing decades of Stalinism.

At an April 10 congress, the party is expected to discuss and ratify a new charter, elect a new central committee and possibly a new Politburo.

One of the aims of the congress will be to separate party and government in an effort to curb party officials' monopoly over government.

Moreover, the government has proposed a law establishing a presidential system and bicameral legislature, to be ratified by the Great People's Hural, Mongolia's parliament, by early May. The law will lay the foundation for parliamentary elections and the creation of locally elected councils.

``It's an enormous agenda for the next few months,'' said a Western diplomat.

The most outspoken pressure for the political reform has come from urban intellectuals leading the Mongolian Democratic Union. Formed last November, the group has rallied thousands of citizens behind its demands for basic liberties and now claims a membership of 70,000.

But the Communist Party is expected to win coming elections comfortably, and the opposition lacks influence among Mongolian herdsmen cultivated by the MPRP's vast rural apparatus, they say.

Rather, experts say the decisive conflict is between reformers and conservatives inside the MPRP, which has ruled Mongolia since it founded the republic with Soviet aid in 1924.

``The real arguments are going to be within the MPRP... about the pace and extent of reform,'' said the diplomat, requesting anonymity.

But it seems the reformers are holding sway. Bolstered in the mid-1980s by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's programs, forward-thinking MPRP leaders initiated some economic liberalization and a less ideological foreign policy in 1988.

Today, party reformers are spurred by democracy rallies in the capital, Ulan Bator.

Progressive political change in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, as well as domestic economic troubles ``will strengthen the hand of reformers in Mongolia,'' says Donald Zagoria, a professor of political science at New York's Hunter College.

Analysts say the new Mongolian leadership will face a rocky road when it attempts to reform the nation's stagnant, centrally planned economy.

Most of Mongolia's 2 million people herd livestock. The country's backward state industries and weak infrastructure are obstacles to development. Moreover, streamlining the nation's large bureaucracy is likely to meet strong resistance.

Mongolia seeks to increase trade and foreign investment. The government has recently established diplomatic ties with South Korea, and has asked for most-favored-nation trading status from the United States.

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