In the early 15th century, Mongol unity gave way to internal quarrels and dissension. Tibetan Buddhism gained ascendancy in the 16th century, and in 1650 the son of the Mongol khan of Urga (now Ulaanbaatar) was named a Living Buddha. An alliance of Buddhist theocracy and secular Mongol aristocracy ruled the country from 1696 until the 20th century, under the suzerainty of the Qing (Manchu) dynasty of China.
After the Chinese revolution of 1911, Mongolia, except the Uriankhai Territory (now Tuva, Russia), declared its independence from China, but the Living Buddha continued to rule. In 1920 a military force that was supplied and financed by Japan and led by Baron Roman Nikolaus von Ungern-Sternberg, a Russian anti-Bolshevik general, took the capital, Urga, and set up a puppet government. In 1921 the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, formed by Russian-trained Mongols, established an independent Provisional People’s Government and, with aid from the Russian Communists, defeated Ungern-Sternberg and his supporters. The theocratic monarchy, its powers limited, was retained by the provisional government until 1924, when the last Living Buddha died. At that time the Mongolian People’s Republic, modeled on Soviet lines, was founded, but its independence was not recognized by China until 1946. After the Communists won power in China in 1949, trade and cultural relations were established between the two nations. However, China’s split with the USSR in the late 1950s curtailed Chinese-Mongolian relations. A Sino-Mongolian border treaty was signed in 1962, but Mongolia maintained its closest ties with the USSR, which in 1961 sponsored its membership in the United Nations. In 1966 the two countries signed a treaty of friendship, trade, and mutual assistance, which was renewed in 1986. In the 1980s the USSR was Mongolia’s leading trade partner and aid donor. About 65,000 Soviet troops were stationed in Mongolia until the early 1990s, when the USSR collasped.
Yumzhagiyen Tsedenbal led Mongolia from 1952 until 1984, followed by Jambyn Batmonh. When Batmonh resigned in March 1990, former foreign trade minister Punsalmaagiyn Ochirbat became president. Ochirbat inaugurated a period of political and economic liberalization in Mongolia. A new constitution was adopted in January 1992, and the reconstituted Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) swept the parliamentary elections in June of that year. In January 1993 President Ochirbat and Russian president Boris Yeltsin signed another treaty of friendship and cooperation, to replace the treaty of 1986. In June 1993 President Ochirbat was reelected. A coalition of opposition parties presented a platform of continued economic reform in Mongolia’s 1996 parliamentary elections. The Democratic Alliance, as the coalition was called, took 50 of the 76 seats in the Great Hural.
However, the pace of Mongolia’s transition to a free-market system generated mixed support among the country’s voters. Despite a three-year, $57-million loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the economic reforms caused increased inflation and unemployment. In presidential elections held in 1997, voters replaced President Ochirbat with the MPRP candidate, Natsagiin Bagabandi, who campaigned on promises of slowing the pace of reform and increasing social services. In the 2000 parliamentary elections, the MPRP won a landslide victory, securing 72 seats in the Great Hural. The new MPRP government also indicated it would pursue economic reform at a more cautious pace. In another show of public support for the MPRP, President Bagabandi was reelected in the May 2001 presidential elections.