By Ganbat Namjilsangarav
The Associated Press
ULAN BATOR, Mongolia (AP) — Mongolia’s opposition Democrats claimed victory this past Monday, May 25, in presidential elections after pledging to crack down on graft and to better distribute the country’s mining wealth.
The ruling People’s Revolutionary Party had already conceded Sunday’s election and said it considered the balloting fair.
With all but one remote western province reporting, the country’s General Election Commission said Mongolian Democratic Party candidate Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj won 51.24 percent of the votes, while incumbent Nambaryn Enkhbayar of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, the former communists, won 47.44 percent.
Turnout was 73.52 percent of the country’s 1.6 million registered voters, the commission said.
A two-time former prime minister, Elbegdorj campaigned on themes of change and graft busting. This was largely pleasing to the urban voters, especially in the capital of Ulan Bator, where more than half the electorate live.
The General Election Commission said preliminary results showed Elbegdorj won seven of the capital’s nine districts. Enkhbayar, took 13 of the country’s 21 rural provinces.
The election comes as the landlocked country struggles to cope with plummeting mineral prices, which have hit the economy hard. One-third of Mongolia’s 2.7 million people already live below the poverty line.
Elbegdorj has promised to share more of the country’s mining wealth with the public — a pledge that has also been made by Mongolia’s ruling party. Both have been stymied by the government’s difficulties in trying to renegotiate terms on mining concessions with big foreign companies.
Mongolia’s president oversees the armed forces and security council and has the power to veto parliamentary decisions. However, a two-thirds vote by lawmakers can overturn a presidential veto.
Prime Minister Bayar Sanjaa, the ruling party chairman, congratulated Elbegdorj at a press conference and said he hoped his victory would increase inter-party cooperation.
About 20,000 people joined a victory rally in the capital’s central square, where Elbegdorj thanked his supporters and pledged to work at improving ties with China, Russia, and other regional partners.
The often U.S.-leaning government has had to rely more heavily on China and Russia for loans and other economic support since the economic downturn.
The election result was a cordial end to a tight race that some had feared would turn violent if it was too close to call. When Democrats lost in parliamentary elections last year, Elbegdorj’s allegations of voting fraud triggered an uproar that left five dead and 300 injured.
It was the worst outbreak of political violence since the 1990 overthrow of communism.
Mongolian political analyst Dagdandorj Amgalanbaatar said Elbegdorj faced the challenge of meeting high expectations with a parliament controlled by a rival party.
“He has to tackle widespread poverty, continue infrastructure development, and lead Mongolia’s foreign policy even though the presidential role and power are limited. That is going to be his biggest challenge,” Dagdandorj said. ♦