Mongolians voted Monday in a presidential election dominated by allegations of graft and concerns about financial upheaval in the landlocked country.
A horse salesman, a former judo star and a nationalist who wants Mongolia to gain a greater share of its mineral wealth were vying to be the Central Asian nation’s new leader.
The three candidates were seeking to succeed Tsakhia Elbegdorj of the Democratic Party, who has served the maximum of two four-year terms.
While the nation of 3 million had been an oasis of democratic stability since the end of communist rule nearly three decades ago, its politics have grown increasingly fractious amid an economic crisis and accusations of corruption among the ruling class.
Speaker of the parliament and horse dealer Miyegombo Enkhbold was representing the Mongolian People’s Party, which won a landslide victory in legislative elections last year. He faced off against judo champion and business tycoon Khaltmaa Batulgaa of the Democratic Party, with Sainkhuu Ganbaatar of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, who has been a vocal critic of mining giant Rio Tinto, rounding out the field.
Nearly 2 million people were registered to vote in the election.
For 30-year old district government office worker and mother Tserendejid Bayanbaatar, restoring the economy and creating jobs for young people were top concerns.
“I want the future president to support young people and young families, support their work environment and create conditions for stable incomes,” Bayanbaatar said.
Avirmed Dangaa, an accountant and former municipal official, said creating stability was important.
“I made my choice based on my beliefs and hopes,” said Dangaa, who favored Enkhbold. “I see that young people are strong and confident in their voice, so I want young people to actively vote. And I want the future president to support young people and young families, support their work environment and create conditions for stable incomes. Stable government is the basis for economic growth. Trust of foreign investors is restored if the government is stable.”
Battulga has a large following among urban entrepreneurs and youth.
“I don’t like corruption and favoritism, which is prevalent everywhere in all levels of Mongolian government. I voted against these corrupt officials,” said Enkhmaa, a 28-year-old entrepreneur and Battulga supporter, who gave only her first name.
Sandwiched between Russia and China, resource-rich Mongolia has been roiled by financial upheaval and the increasing draw of China’s economic and political influence that competes with its ties with the democratic West, especially the United States
Foreign investment in Mongolia has slumped in recent years following weaker commodity prices and high-profile disputes between the government and large investors including Rio Tinto. Mongolia’s economy grew just 1 percent last year, down from 17.5 percent in 2011, when it was the world’s fastest-growing. It now has $23 billion in debt, more than double the size of its economy. Unemployment is roughly 9 percent, with about one in five Mongolians living in poverty.
The country recently secured a $5.5 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout to stem its financial crisis, with a $500 million bond repayment due in January 2018. Enkhbold’s party pledges to continue the IMF’s program, including higher taxes and spending cuts, while Ganbaatar has criticized the IMF.
Election results are expected late Monday or early Tuesday.
Story by the Associated Press