Quick facts

Introduction

Mongolia has recently topped lists as one of the world’s fastest growing economies, holding a massive wealth of mineral resources. With an outward-looking professional business community, democratic government and rapidly improving living conditions, many international investors are turning their attention to this previously overlooked corner of Asia.

Landlocked between Russia and China, Mongolia is a country of extremes. Despite having the coldest capital city in the world1, summer temperatures can exceed forty degrees Celsius. The climate is arid, but when it does rain, it can be torrential.

Although very thinly populated, with approximately three million people in an area the size of Western Europe, city housing stock is in short supply and the cosmopolitan atmosphere of central Ulaanbaatar contrasts with the remote existences of smaller communities.

Geography and climate

Bordered on the north by Russia and on the east, south and west by China, Mongolia has a total area of one point five million square kilometers, making it the nineteenth largest country in the world and the second largest landlocked country. For administrative purposes, the territory is divided into three cities and twenty-one provinces (aimags). The most significant population center is the capital Ulaanbaatar, home to approximately 1.3 million people.

Mongolia is situated on a plateau far from any oceans, with average elevation of one and a half kilometers. 5 This gives it an extreme continental climate which varies considerably across the country and between the seasons. Broadly speaking, elevation is lowest in the east of the country, rising to the Altai mountain range in the west. Mongolia’s highest point is a mountain peak marking the western border between Mongolia, Russia and China. Travelling from north to south, one would go from Siberian forests and lakes, pass through open steppe grassland and mountains, and ultimately reach the Gobi desert.

The country has long cold winters and short warm summers. Winters are dry and summer rainfall rarely exceeds three hundred and eighty millimeters in the mountains and is less than fifty millimeters in the desert areas. 6 Temperatures in Ulaanbaatar can regularly exceed thirty degrees Celsius from mid-June to mid-August, but are also often below minus thirty degrees Celsius in winter. Spring and autumn are unpredictable and snow can be seen in early June or late August. However, spells of warm weather also occur at early as April and as late as October.

Political system

Mongolia is a parliamentary democracy, with key positions held by the President, Prime Minister and Government Ministers. The main chamber of parliament, consisting of 76 members elected on a first past-the-post system, is called the State Great Khural. Parliamentary elections are held every four years and presidential elections the following year.

Since the early 1990s, the main government parties have been the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) and the Democratic Party (DP). The MPP was formerly called the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) and was the ruling party throughout the socialist era. The party now calling itself the MPRP is a splinter group, created after the original party changed its name in 2010.

Mongolians elected 76 members of parliament on June 24, 2020. The governing Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) won another resounding victory with 62 seats (slightly down from 65 won in 2016). While the MPP has only lost three seats, the 62 seats it does hold are a supermajority by any definition in a parliament of 76. The other seats were won by the opposition Democratic Party (DP – 11 seats), the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP, as part of the Your Coalition – one seat), and the National Labor Party (KhUN, as part of “Right Person Elektorat” coalition – one seat), with the remaining seat going to former Prime Minister N. Altahnkhuyag, who campaigned as an independent.

History

The concept of the Mongolian state was founded by Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan) when he unified disparate nomadic tribes in 1206. By the time he died, the Mongol Empire stretched from Manchuria to the Caspian Sea. His descendants continued to rule the empire and extended the territory to create the largest land empire ever to exist. Gradually this fragmented until in the seventeenth century, the power of the Mongolian kings was weakened and became vulnerable to invasion. In 1636, Inner Mongolia came under the power of the Qing (Manchu’s), followed by Outer Mongolia in 1691. 

When China was experiencing political turmoil in the early twentieth century, Mongolian nationalists took the opportunity to ally themselves with the Soviet Union. In 1924, Outer Mongolia formally announced full independence as the Mongolian People’s Republic (MPR), the world’s second Communist state. The MPR was effectively a client state of the Soviet Union, which heavily influenced internal politics. This included negative impacts such as religious purges in the 1930s and forced collectivization. However, with investment from the Soviet Union, significant infrastructure was put in place and levels of education, healthcare and the economic growth improved. Inner Mongolia remains a province of China today. 

Mongolia underwent a peaceful transition to democracy, electing the first democratic parliament members in July 1990. The new constitution was established in 1992 and the first president elected in 1993.

Population, language and religion

The National Statistical Office has reported that Mongolia’s total population reached 3,278,290 people at the mid of 2020. 43% of the population lives in Ulaanbaatar. The rest of the population lives in smaller towns and villages or are nomadic/semi-nomadic. Mongolians belong predominantly to the Khalkh ethnic group (eighty to 82% of the population, 2010 est.) and there is a significant Kazakh minority of approximately 3.8% of the population, with a very distinct language and culture. The remaining ethnic groups are mostly quite closely related to the Khalkh.

The official language of Mongolia and first language of the vast majority of Mongolian nationals is Khalkh Mongolian (written in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet). However there are other languages and dialects spoken by minority groups, most notably in the province of Bayan-Ulgii, where the Kazakhs are in the majority, and Tuvans also form a significant group. During the socialist period, the first foreign language taught was Russian. However, English is now widely taught and often a requirement to work for international companies. Chinese, Korean, Japanese and German are also popular languages. It should be noted that Mongolians rarely use their family names, identifying themselves instead by a given name and a patronymic.

In Mongolian, the patronymic precedes the given name and is often shown only as an initial – thus Batbold’s son Tumur would be called Batboldin Tumur or B. Tumur. However, many Mongolians working in international environments now put their given name first on English language business cards (i.e. Tumur Batbold). The convention is identical for men and women, and women do not change their names on marriage. Shamanism is the oldest religious tradition in Mongolia and was replaced by Buddhism from the sixteenth century onwards. Under Communism, all religion was suppressed and most temples and monasteries were destroyed. The majority of the population now identifies as Buddhist, with small Shamanist, Christian and Muslim minorities.

Currency

The official currency of Mongolia is the Mongolian tugrik or tögrög (MNT). During the three year period to Dec 2020, the exchange rate fluctuated from 2,846-2,850 MNT:USD and 3,729-3,750 MNT:GBP.

Currency is issued by the Central Bank of Mongolia, and the official daily foreign exchange rates can be found at: https://www.mongolbank.mn/eng/dblistofficialdailyrate.aspx

Public holidays

There are seven celebrations in Mongolia for which public holidays are observed. Holidays are generally observed on the actual date but if a holiday falls on the weekend, the government may at its discretion declare an additional day off.

Similarly, where there is only one day between a public holiday and a weekend, there have been instances where a Saturday has been turned into a working day in lieu of the Monday or Friday, allowing employees to take a longer holiday. Typically, there is very short notice of such decisions, so as an employer or business visitor, one should be aware that working hours around holidays may change as little as a week prior. Public holidays may also be granted for events such as general elections.

Public Holidays in Mongolia
Holiday observed Date observed
New Year’s Day 1 January
Tsagaan Sar (Lunar New Year) Three days in late January/early February
International Women’s Day 8 March
Children’s Day 1 June
Naadam 11 – 15 July
Chinggis Khaan’s birth date On the first day of first month of winter according to Lunisolar Calendar
Reclaimed independence and national freedom day 29 December

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