Mongolia President Vote Heads for Run-off as Populist Leads
A Mongolian businessman who ran a populist-tinged campaign for president led after the first round of voting, as the chief of the country’s ruling party waited to find out if he had made the run-off.
Democratic Party candidate Battulga Khaltmaa, a former cabinet minister, received 38.6 percent of the vote, according to a preliminary tally by Mongolian news portal News.mn. Parliament Speaker Enkhbold Miyegombo, leader of the Mongolian People’s Party, had 30.7 percent, giving him a 0.1 percentage point lead over ex-lawmaker Ganbaatar Sainkhuu, who had pledged to “take back the natural resources for each citizen.”
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. Since no candidate secured more than half the vote, the top two will head to a run-off to determine who will succeed President Elbegdorj Tsakhia, a Democratic Party member barred from seeking a third term.
The result, which follows a brief but bruising campaign marred by corruption allegations, adds uncertainty to Mongolia’s recovery from a commodity downturn that battered government finances and the economy. The presidency could provide a platform to challenge the MPP’s efforts to open more mines and support a $5.5 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout package announced in February.
While Parliament controls Mongolia’s government, the president serves as commander-in-chief, can veto legislation and is also responsible for appointing key officials.
Enkhbold, a career politician who dabbles in horse breeding, had promised stability, arguing that government policies stand a better chance under an MPP presidency. Battulga, a former agriculture-and-industry minister and one-time judo star, said he would provide a check on the ruling party’s power.
The Democratic Party candidate told Bloomberg earlier this month he wanted to reinstate a banking measure that almost derailed the IMF’s $434 million portion of the bailout package. Mongolia’s parliament last month repealed the provision, which directed revenue from the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine and other large foreign-backed projects through local banks, after the IMF balked at approving the funding.
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.
None of the candidates have been spared from scandal during the three-week campaign.
“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.”
Surprises during the campaign included the release of a three-year-old audio recording that reports say show Enkhbold and two MPP colleagues discussing payments for senior government positions. The MPP denied the allegations and said the tapes were edited to take the remarks out of context.
MPP lawmakers also accused Battulga of misappropriating mining contracts and called on him to answer questions about online allegations that he had large overseas holdings. The Battulga campaign said both claims were untrue.
About 1.3 million voters cast ballots in the election, representing a turnout of 66.5 percent, according to Mongolia’s state-owned Montsame news agency.