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Mongolia amends constitution in bid to end political instability

ULAANBAATAR, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Mongolia has amended its constitution for the second time since it was ratified in 1992, strengthening the powers of the prime minister in a bid to end years of costly political instability and economic stagnation.

In Mongolia's hybrid political system, power has been shared by an elected president and the government, which is appointed by parliament and headed by a prime minister. The president, who usually comes from the political party in opposition, is able to veto legislation and propose his own.

The system has made it difficult for governments to implement their agendas, and has also been held responsible for long delays to giant mining projects like the Tavan Tolgoi coal mine and the Oyu Tolgoi copper deposit run by Rio Tinto .

Experts say the changes, approved by parliament on Thursday, will tip the balance of power in favour of the prime minister, giving the office full authority to appoint and dismiss the cabinet and weakening the role of the presidency.

"Constitutional law amendments have been discussed since 2010 and it’s been passed on to two or three governments. The main goal was to strengthen parliamentary governance," said Nomingerel Khuyag, a lawyer and political activist with the opposition Democratic Party, who said prime ministers up to now had not had enough authority over the budget or to choose who served in their own government.

"We needed to fix this and if we give more power to the prime minister - we need also to have a strong minority to control or monitor the prime minister,” she added. “In the last 20 years, we couldn’t clearly say who was the head of the executive. With these amendments, it is now clear – the prime minister has been given more rights."

Future presidents, though still elected directly by the people, will be limited to one six-year term, compared to two four-year terms previously, starting from 2024.

On Thursday, lawmakers also rejected proposals to use proportional representation in future parliamentary elections, and they also forbade governments from amending election laws for one year before polls are held.

Mongolia has had 16 different governments since it became a parliamentary democracy in 1990. Current President Battulga Khaltmaa told Reuters earlier this year that the system had hindered attempts to tackle deep-seated problems like corruption and poverty, and needed to be overhauled.

Battulga, elected against the odds in 2016, is seen as a populist and has been under fire for championing political reforms that would strengthen his own power. The amendments weakening his role were approved by parliamentarians on both sides of the political divide.

"If the ruling Mongolian People's Party wants to snatch the President's teeth, the (opposition) Democratic Party wants to remove his tongue as well," said Sumati Luvsandendev, political analyst and head of the Sant Maral Foundation, a polling group. (Reporting by Suvdantsetseg Tsagaanbaatar and Anand Tumurtogoo; Writing by David Stanway; Editing by Giles Elgood)