Mongolians vote in first presidential runoff

July 7, 2017 11:54 am

Polling station officials wait for voters to arrive to vote in the Mongolian presidential election, at the Erdene Sum Ger (Yurt) polling station in Tuul Valley, June 26, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Mongolians headed to the polls on Friday in the country’s first-ever presidential runoff after the first round of elections failed to produce a clear winner following campaigns tainted by corruption scandals.
Many voters in the vast, resource-rich nation of three million people sandwiched between Russia and China were so fed up with their politicians that they launched a campaign to cast blank ballots.
Businessman and judoka Khaltmaa Battulga of the opposition Democratic Party (DP), who led the first round, faces Parliament Speaker Mieygombo Enkhbold, of the ruling Mongolian People’s Party (MPP).
Enkhbold eked out a mere 0.1 percent victory over the Mongolian Revolutionary People’s Party’s Sainkhuu Ganbaatar in last week’s election, which was mired in controversy.
Ganbaatar cried foul and demanded a recount, but the result was eventually confirmed.
Mongolians, disillusioned by their politicians, launched the “White Ballot” campaign, also dubbed “#WhiteChoice,” to encourage people to submit blank ballots.
Mongolian election law stipulates that a candidate must garner at least 51 percent of the vote to secure the presidency. If neither candidate reaches this number, the parties will be required to nominate different representatives for an entirely new election.

People cast their ballots at a polling station during the Mongolian presidential election, in Ulan Bator, June 26, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Both Battulga and Enkhbold were linked to scandals ahead of the first-round vote.
A video showed Enkhbold and two MPP officials allegedly discussing a 60-billion-tugrik ($25-million) plan for selling government positions.
Battulga was haunted by reports of offshore accounts attached to his name, as well as the arrests of several of his associates by Mongolia’s anti-corruption body last spring.
But in the nearly two weeks between the first round and the runoff, public opinion appeared to turn in favor of the brash businessman, said Julian Dierkes, a Mongolia scholar at the University of British Columbia.
“It does seem a little bit like Enkhbold is, if not nose-diving, certainly not on the upswing,” Dierkes told AFP.
He noted that the MPP, which holds the majority of parliamentary seats but not the presidency, announced on Tuesday that Mongolian parents would be a given a monthly 20,000 tugrik ($8) allowance for every child.
The move is at odds with the country’s promise to limit mass cash handouts in order to meet the requirements of its $5.5 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout.
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