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Mongolia's Uneven Boom

Its election will be a referendum on whether mining has enriched a few at the expense of many
The population of Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar, has doubled in the past two years, giving rise to sprawling shantytowns
The population of Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar, has doubled in the past two years, giving rise to sprawling shantytownsPhotograph by Alessandro Grassani/Luzphoto

As Mongolia prepares for parliamentary elections on June 28, the resource-rich Central Asian country buzzes with campaign activity. On a sunny afternoon vans festooned with the banners and flags of the Democratic Party and Mongolian People’s Party careen through the potholed streets of Ulaanbaatar, loudspeakers blaring out the candidates’ virtues. Students march through the city center wearing T-shirts bearing the images of those vying for the 76 legislative seats.

Sitting in his ramshackle wooden home, Dorjsuren (many Mongolians use a single name), an unemployed plumber, bitterly dismisses the electoral spectacle. “Right now Mongolia is rushing to give away its land and resources to foreigners, and it makes me deeply angry,” says the resident of one of the capital’s sprawling slums, which are largely made up of round felt tents called gers. “Our government does nothing for the people while the rich just get richer.”