Ex-martial arts star leads Mongolia's first presidential runoff

Kyodo News

Posted at Jul 08 2017 02:27 PM

ULAN BATOR -- A former martial arts star was poised Saturday to win Mongolia's first-ever presidential runoff election against a career politician from the ruling party, with many voters unhappy about the resource-dependent economy being mired in an extended slump.

Khaltmaa Battulga of the main opposition Democratic Party, a business tycoon and former world champion in the Soviet combat sport Sambo, led the poll with 50.7 percent of the total votes with about 87 percent counted, the General Election Commission said.

Miyegombo Enkhbold of the Mongolian People's Party won 41 percent support in the election seen as a referendum on the government's policy of implementing austerity measures, at a time when the country with a population of 3 million, landlocked between China and Russia, is struggling to pull its economy out of crisis.

Turnout for the runoff, which took place Friday, stood at 60.41 with about 1.2 million votes, the commission said, adding about 8.3 percent of the counted total were blank ballots. The preliminary results of the runoff will be determined later Saturday.

Battulga, 54, a supporter of nationalizing resources who has criticized government spending cuts and the country's economic overdependence on China, garnered the most votes in the first round of the presidential election last week, but there was no definitive winner after none of the candidates secure the required majority.

Enkhbold narrowly came second in the three-horse race on June 26, although his party won a sweeping victory in a parliamentary election roughly a year ago.

Despite the economic difficulties, the 52-year-old chief of the ruling party and parliament speaker, who is also a former prime minister, has made national unity a campaign issue.

Enkhbold was tipped as the frontrunner before the election, but he struggled to connect with voters as allegations of corrupt land reforms during his time as mayor of Ulan Bator, the capital city, hung over the campaign's final weeks.

The runoff between the two candidates is to pick the successor to President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj of the Democratic Party, whose second and final four-year term in office ends this month.

Mongolia formerly enjoyed robust growth, with its gross domestic product expansion peaking at 17.5 percent in 2011. Following a sharp fall in global commodity prices, it is now saddled with heavy debt and its economy grew only 1 percent last year.

The government has rolled out fiscal belt-tightening measures in exchange for securing earlier this year a $5.5 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout package.