Mongolia poised to elect new parliament
Mongolians head to the polls on Thursday to elect a parliament that will have to make important choices about how to share the proceeds of the mining boom that has gripped the mineral-rich country of 2.8m people.
The election pits the Mongolian People’s party, which has been in power for most of the past 60 years, against the Democratic party, its coalition partner until January. They also face a challenge from the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary party, created in 2010 when former president Nambaryn Enkhbayar split from the MPP.
While the two main parties have similar election platforms – promising to diversify the economy and improve people’s lives – the outcome will help determine how Mongolia divides the wealth from its vast mineral resources with its population and also with the foreign companies that have taken stakes in the mining projects.
Mongolia’s location between China and Russia and its vast deposits of coal, copper and iron ore have made it a focus for global mining companies including Rio Tinto, Peabody and China’s Shenhua. Mining has helped catapult economic growth to a rate approaching 20 per cent annually, making the $10bn economy one of the fastest-growing in the world.
The parliamentary race has been dubbed the “quiet election” because Mongolia recently passed a campaign law that bans outdoor concerts, a feature of previous elections. But voter interest is high, and more than 80 per cent of Mongolia’s 1.5m registered voters are expected to cast their ballots. Many of the polling stations are in remote areas with about a third having no mobile phone coverage. Mongolia is also using a new electronic voting system in an effort to fight election fraud.
According to the latest figures from Sant Maral, a Mongolian polling group, 28.6 per cent of respondents back the Democratic party, 18.8 per cent support the MPP, while 15 per cent want the MPRP to win. Roughly 23 per cent were undecided.
The polls suggest that the Democratic party will win the most seats, but fall short of an outright majority, forcing it to form a coalition. Its position could also be bolstered by surging support for the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary party, which threatens to take votes from the Mongolian People’s party.
The MPRP has seen increased backing partly because it advocates national ownership of the country’s mines, which plays well with Mongolians who feel they are not getting their fair share of the wealth being generated by the mining boom. It has also gained from people who believe that corruption charges levelled by the government at Mr Enkhbayar are politically motivated.
Analysts say the new government – regardless of who takes power – will probably adopt policies that give the Mongolian people and state a greater stake in future projects than at present.
Since the last parliamentary election in 2008, public dissatisfaction towards mining has risen because of growing social inequality and environmental concerns.
Over the past four years, mining revenues have been distributed equally among the population, with each citizen receiving 21,000 tugriks ($16) a month, but the system will be replaced next month by a targeted welfare programme.
“The election platforms of both parties that are the most likely winners contain various elements of resource nationalism, such as larger state stakes in companies based on deposits,” says Dale Choi, analyst with Frontier Securities in Ulan Bator, the country’s capital.
L. Sumati, a pollster who heads Sant Maral, says dissatisfaction with politicians is high, and that “the population is interested to replace all of them”.
Observers point out that the democratic process in Mongolia, which has held regular, peaceful polls since it severed ties with the Soviet Union, its former backer, in 1990, is remarkably stable.
“One should not underestimate the sophistication of the electorate,” says Alphonse La Porta, former US ambassador to Ulan Bator. “Mongolians are very savvy.”
By Leslie Hook in Beijing