Mongolia Awaits Presidential Election Outcome After Bruising Campaign

  • Mudslinging, corruption claims overshadow economic woes
  • Race pits ruling party chief against populist challenger

Mongolia is awaiting the results of a contentious presidential election in which mudslinging and corruption claims overshadowed debate about the nation’s troubled economy. 

The race pits Parliament Speaker Enkhbold Miyegombo, 52, the head of Mongolia’s ruling party, against populist-tinged challenger Battulga Khaltmaa, 54, who promised greater controls on the nation’s vast mineral resources. A third candidate, former lawmaker Ganbaatar Sainkhuu, 46, pledged to “take back the natural resources for each citizen.’’

Battulga Khaltmaa

Photographer: Fred Dufour/AFP via Getty Images

Polls in the nation of 3.1 million people were scheduled to close at 10 p.m. Monday, with results expected by midnight. If no candidate secures more than half the vote, the top two contenders will head to a run-off. 

Enkhbold’s Mongolian People’s Party has been trying to open more mines and recover from a commodity downturn that battered government finances and the economy. The presidency -- now held by Battulga’s Democratic Party -- could provide a platform to contest policies that underpin a $5.5 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout package announced in February, which is expected to stay in place no matter who wins.

While Mongolia’s Parliament controls the government, the president serves as commander-in-chief of the military. The president can veto legislation and is also responsible for nominating candidates for prime minister and appointing the intelligence and anti-corruption chiefs. The incumbent, Elbegdorj Tsakhia, is barred from seeking a third term.

Stability, Check

Enkhbold, a career politician who dabbles in horse breeding, has promised stability, arguing that government policies stand a better chance under an MPP presidency. Battulga, a businessman and former agriculture-and-industry minister, said he would provide a check on the ruling party’s power.

Enkhbold Miyegombo

Photographer: Byambasuren Byamba-Ochir/AFP via Getty Images

While Enkhbold entered the race as the favorite after a landslide victory in last year’s legislative elections, no reliable polling was available ahead of the vote. None of the candidates have been spared from scandal during a three-week campaign marked by corruption allegations.

“I am hoping for a run-off,’’ said Munkhbayasgalan Delgerbat, a marketing-management student at the University of Finance and Economics, who cast a blank ballot. “The candidates were not competing against one another about what they will do for the country. They were just raising black PR.”

Dale Choi, founder of Altan Bumba Financial Group, said Battulga’s outsider credentials could overcome Enkhbold’s advantages of funding and political organization if the MPP failed to secure a victory in the first round.

“Generally anti-establishment young voters who don’t care to vote will be forced to vote,” Choi said. “Typically, young voters are not happy -- frustrated with the system, which does not give many opportunities for them -- and more likely to protest-vote for Battulga, which symbolizes balance and control over establishment.’’

S&P Global Ratings projects that Mongolia’s economy, which grew by an average of more than 10 percent annually before last year’s slowdown, will contract by 0.2 percent this year before stabilizing. The government is counting on mining projects, including the $5.4 billion Oyu Tolgoi site operated by Rio Tinto Group, to bring in new revenue.

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