Mongolia set for presidential polls
ULAN BATOR: Mongolians are set to vote in a presidential election Wednesday, with the three major candidates promising fairer wealth distribution from a spectacular mining boom that has raised questions over the role of foreign investors.
Recent polls suggest President Tsakhia Elbegdorj will secure a second term to continue his policy of using foreign cash to help drive the rapid development of Mongolia’s economy, which grew by 17.5 percent in 2011 and 12.3 percent last year.
The expansion has been achieved following the arrival of foreign mining giants, which have moved in to exploit huge and largely untapped reserves of coal, copper and gold.
All three candidates claim they want to ensure a fair distribution of wealth — political rhetoric that has caused friction with the overseas investors who have helped boost growth in the remote, land-locked nation.
Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto and Canada’s Turquoise Hill Resources have jointly led construction of the $6.2 billion Oyu Tolgoi mine, which is expected to produce 450,000 tonnes of copper concentrate a year and generate up to one-third of government revenue by 2019.
The first shipments from the mine were blocked by the Mongolian government ahead of the polls and still remain grounded, Rio Tinto spokesman Bruce Tobin told AFP Tuesday.
“Rio Tinto is keen to start shipping as soon as possible in order for the benefits from Oyu Tolgoi to start flowing to all parties, including the people of Mongolia,” he said.
Before the mining boom many Mongolians lived nomadic lives not far removed from their famous warrior hero, Genghis Khan, who roamed on horseback from the beautiful steppes of his homeland to build an empire that reached into Europe 800 years ago.
But concerns over rising inequality in the cities and environmental damage in the rural areas continue to dominate debate in the country’s parliament.
Ordinary Mongolians also spoke of their distrust for politicians ahead of the polling, which will start at 7am Wednesday (2300 GMT Tuesday).
“Elbegdorj will win because he is using the entire state machine with its police, anti-corruption committee, and courts for his pre-election campaign,” said Legjeem Bolor, a researcher in social sciences.
“He looks like he is doing his work as a head of state but in fact it’s his pre-election campaign.”
Elbegdorj’s main challenger is likely to be Badmaanyambuu Bat-Erdene, a champion wrestler and candidate from the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP).
The third candidate, Natsag Udval, from the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), is a supporter of former president Nambar Enkhbayar, who is serving a two-and-half year jail term on corruption charges.
Bat-Erdene helped draw up a new environmental protection law amid concerns that the country’s breathtaking landscape was being damaged by industry.
And both of Elbegdorj’s challengers harbour policies aimed at amending Oyu Tolgoi’s contract amid concerns over rampant development and inequality.
“I am thinking of voting for Bat-Erdene,” said Sharav Selenge from Ulan Bator, an unemployed mother of one child.
“He has clearly received a lot of popular support for his anti-mining activities and has put himself forward as a politician who stands for fair distribution of mining wealth and protection of the environment,” Selenge said.
Any candidate that wins over 50 percent of the vote will claim victory and avoid a run-off on July 10.
A survey carried out between June 14-16 by the Ulan Bator-based Sant Maral Foundation — a traditional stronghold of the ruling Democratic Party — suggested that 54 percent of Mongolians will vote for Elbegdorj.
The landlocked nation shook off seven decades of communist rule without a shot being fired in 1990.
It held its first elections in 1992, signalling a transition to democracy that has been largely peaceful, although accusations of vote-rigging in 2008 parliamentary elections resulted in deadly riots.