Mongolia's PM quits amid protests over treatment of mother with coronavirus and newborn baby

Mongolia's PM quits amid protests over treatment of mother with coronavirus and newborn baby
Khurelsukh Ukhnaa quit amid the outrage.
By Anand Tumurtogoo in Ulaanbaatar January 22, 2021

Mongolia’s Prime Minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa submitted his resignation to the State Ikh Khural (Parliament) on January 21 and moved to dissolve his government after video footage (go here, scroll down) of the apparent mistreatment of a mother diagnosed with coronavirus and her newborn baby went viral, prompting thousands to demonstrate in the capital Ulaanbaatar over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers approved his decision to quit and the dismissal of the cabinet.

Khurelsukh said in his resignation statement that he should “take the responsibility upon himself and accept the demand of the public”. However, in parting remarks, Khurelsukh, of the ruling Mongolian People’s Party (MPP), accused President Battulga Khaltmaa, a member of the opposition Democratic Party, of inciting the protest. Many MPP lawmakers shared that sentiment and some proposed that Battulga should be impeached for insurrection.

The protests erupted on January 20 over what many Mongolians saw as the shabby and inhumane treatment of the mother and her newborn. More than 10,000 young Mongolians protested in front of the government palace in Ulaanbaatar for more than 10 hours to beyond midnight after a local news agency captured footage appearing to show rough treatment of the patient, a woman who had given birth very shortly after she tested positive for coronavirus.

The video from Eagle News showed how the woman, wearing only her nightgown and slippers, and her baby, were on January 19 in the middle of the night rushed through the bitter cold to the National Centre for Communicable Diseases. Mongolians were outraged by the sight of the treatment she experienced, and young people, already frustrated by how the government was handling the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, were sparked into action by the perceived affront to human dignity. Some demonstrators wore slippers and bathrobes as an act of solidarity.

Head of the State Emergency Commission, Sodbaatar Yangu, and Minister of Health Munkhsaikhan Togtmol quickly resigned as public pressure mounted. Shortly thereafter, the head of the capital city’s health department quit. The president addressed the matter of the video on his website, but did not make any public remarks.

Protests beyond midnight

The demonstration marked the first time since 1992 that young Mongolians had gathered for a peaceful protest against the government. All of the protesters appeared to arrive at Sukhbaatar square without any organised prompting, and with one cohesive message for the government: "Resign!" Even after the resignation of the two ministers, the protesters stayed in place until midnight.

The coronavirus crisis has seen many small businesses closed in Mongolia, with no prospect offered by officials of reopening in the future.

The day of protests also saw a mining insider telling how mine workers were reaching breaking point because they had spent more than 60-70 days at their mine as part of the pandemic lockdown, with no sign given by the government on when they could return to their homes and families.

The board of the MPP convened on January 22 and approved a proposal to appoint Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai, an MP and chief cabinet secretary, as the new prime minister. Parliament will now vote on the nomination.

There is growing public dissatisfaction with Mongolia’s economic situation and lack of job opportunities.

Mongolia, which earned praise from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the early stages of the pandemic for its handling of the health crisis, has lately been battling an outbreak of domestic coronavirus transmissions, traced back to an infected truck driver who arrived in the country from Russia.

The country, with a population of around 3mn, has so far reported 1,592 coronavirus cases, but no deaths.