By Cooper Baltis
published Friday May 24 in the UB Post
Tense and emotional, confused and distressed, angry and shocked, these words fail to describe the sentiments of the early morning crowd gathered outside of N. Enkhbayar’s home on April 13, the day former president of Mongolia was arrested.
I was at the airport when the first arrest attempts were made, waiting for my brother to arrive from America. I became curious about the event as I watched a mob of people gravitate toward a flat screen television hook to the wall. The television was fixed to a news channel showing live images of police men holding back a crowd and covering themselves with their riot shields.
Puzzled as to what was going on, I asked my Mongolian friend whom I had come to the airport with what all the commotion about. She walked over to the television and stood with the crowd for a moment, read the caption on the bottom of the screen. She came back a few minutes later to inform me that the ex-president of Mongolia, Enkhbayar, was being arrested.
After spending nearly a month in jail and going on a hunger strike in which he lost 16kg, Enkhbayar was released on bail by the Sukhbaatar district court. Many believe his release was heavily aided heavily by international pressure, through groups like Amnesty International and the UN, who cried foul play when the details of the arrest surfaced. With parliamentary elections soon to take place, an election cycle Enkhbayar plans to participate in, the arrest and the publicity could not have come a worse time.
There seems to be a trend this year in executive arrests, a trend that some see as dangerous and others see as necessary. In February, Maldives issued an arrest warrant for Mohamed Nasheed, a founder of the Maldivian Democratic Party and former president of Maldives from 2008 to 2012. A political prisoner during his youth, the reasoning behind this call to be taken into custody is still unclear.
In March, the Malawi government arrested Austin Atupele Muluzi, son of former President Bakili Muluzi. Guinea-Bissau’s interim president Raimundo Pereira was arrested at his home in April. Also In April, Malian soldiers began arresting allies of ousted President Amadou Toumani, after a coup which forced him into hiding. While some of these cases differ from the recent Mongolian situation, common themes and the possibility of future scenarios are frighteningly clear.
In the United States, the term “executive privilege” is used to describe the ability for the President and close members of his or her branch to resist certain types of intrusion from the judicial and legislative branches of the government. While governmental systems differ around the globe, I will use this term to define a president or prime minister’s ability to defy arrest.
To be a president is to naturally be the one to take blame for everything. A citizen lost his or her job? It’s your fault. The economy’s performance is lackluster? You’d better fix it. Some people feel they don’t have the same rights as others? Again, your fault. The roads in some faraway city are deteriorating? You should be fixing this. Foreigners are investing in your country? How dare they! There’s a drought? It must be because you forgot to make it rain. The hot water isn’t working? You should have heated the water yourself. Someone got hit by a car? You should have added more traffic lights. Someone is overweight? Quit feeding them candy.
The need for executive privilege arises from all these scenarios. It is easy to blame a president for anything and everything that went wrong during his or her term. The need for executive privilege is anchored by the fact that being president is a double-edged sword. Lives are taken into your hands, peoples livelihoods depend on you, and things you do or say can affect your country’s economic outlook during your term and for decades after. This coupled with the fact that the ears of a former president have been filled with sensitive information regarding a variety of subjects only add to the argument for executive privilege.
Executive privilege can also be a dangerous thing. There are many scenarios that have been played out globally in which a president took advantage of their position. This can cost lives, produce economic turmoil and create unnecessary wars. Executive privilege creates a situation where bringing warranted justice to a president is difficult, generating gross circumstances in regards to accountability. If presidents are not held accountable for certain types of offenses, then the very foundations of democracy and justice fracture.
If executive privilege is not administered, problems also arise for former presidents when the incoming government is that of a political rival. Regardless of true intent or bona fide evidence, this snag in the democratic process makes it difficult to bring presidents to justice, whether they are guilty or not. After all, all current presidents wanting to bring former presidents to justice should remember that they too will be former presidents at some point. The sword of supposed justice caters to no man.
With many global news organizations mentioning how Enkhbayar’s arrest has poked holes in the Mongolian democratic system, the elections this summer should prove to be interesting. Democracy is always in a process of experiencing growing pains, as the whim of the people changes daily and this whim can help or hurt the future prospects of a country. Since a president is a person, he or she falls too into this category.
Presidents should be held accountable for decisions made during their time in office; otherwise, nothing will separate a president from a king besides the term limits. However, due process is a right afforded to all citizens of a democratic nation, a right that must extend to the president. In Mongolia’s case, the fact that Enkhbayar was taken into custody in such a forceful way added international pressure where international pressure wasn’t needed. This pressure has built over the last month, and is waiting in the rafters like hungry media dogs for the predicted political explosion this summer. If Mongolia can learn or modify anything from this recent experience, it will be to take things lightly this summer. And if power changes hands, seeking revenge will only exacerbate an already ugly situation. Revenge never helps anyone in the long run.
Mistakes are constantly made in the democratic process. If more politicians and citizens recognize and embrace this, changes to the system are possible and these modifications only enhance the outcome of the system. If discussions are greeted by anger and resentment, the spiral downward only hastens the possibility for revenge politics and outward violence. While executive privilege is a good thing, it must not be used as a shield to shelter presidents from responsibility and accountability. Democracy is secured by justice, and once these strings begin to unravel, whatever it was democracy was protecting us from becomes chillingly apparent.