Mongolia ruling party wins reduced majority in vote dominated by graft

Millions of Mongolians turned out to elect 126 members of the State Great Khural, the country's unicameral parliament (Hector RETAMAL)
Millions of Mongolians turned out to elect 126 members of the State Great Khural, the country's unicameral parliament (Hector RETAMAL)

Mongolia's ruling party emerged from this week's polls with its parliamentary majority significantly diminished Saturday, local media said, after a campaign dominated by graft fears and the state of the economy.

Prime Minister Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene declared victory early Saturday morning in the previous day's polls, in which millions of Mongolians turned out to elect 126 members of the State Great Khural, the country's unicameral parliament.

Local media outlet Ikon, collating figures provided by the General Election Commission, reported that the ruling Mongolian People's Party (MPP) had won 68 seats, giving it a majority of four.

The main opposition Democratic Party won 42, Ikon reported, while the minor anti-corruption HUN party won eight. Smaller parties won eight seats between them.

The head of the Electoral Commission said on Saturday afternoon there remained some votes to be counted by hand to verify results collated by machines.

"Only six to seven polling stations are remaining, but the hand counting matches the machines 100 percent," he told a news conference in the capital Ulaanbaatar.

"These polling stations will be finished very soon," he said.

The results -- the first under a new electoral system in which Mongolians vote for both proportional lists and individuals representing large districts -- mean the MPP will govern with a greatly reduced majority.

- 'Rebuke' -

The new parliament will see the MPP hold 54 percent of the seats, compared to around 80 percent in 2020.

"This election result definitely represents a rebuke to MPP and the entirety of its leadership," Bayarlkhagva Munkhnaran, an analyst and former official with the National Security Council of Mongolia, told AFP.

Winning 68 seats is "barely a face-saver and any subsequent government will be a weak but much more democratic one", he said.

"The biggest winners are Mongolian people who resolutely hit the polling stations and confirmed their unequivocal support for a democratic path."

Analysts had expected the MPP to retain the majority it has enjoyed since 2016 and govern for another four years.

They say the party can credit much of its success to a boom in coal mining that fuelled double-digit growth and dramatically improved standards of living, as well as to a formidable party machine.

However, the campaign was dominated by deep public frustration over endemic corruption, as well as the high cost of living.

There is also a widespread belief that the proceeds of the coal-mining boom are being hoarded by a wealthy elite -- a view that has sparked frequent protests.

- 'Life hasn't changed' -

On the streets of Ulaanbaatar, 25-year-old Myagmariin Dulguun, a tattooed bartender, told AFP he had taken part in those protests and was "not happy at all" with the election result.

"I didn't expect the MPP to win, everyone around me was against them," he said.

"We need political reform. We need to do more protests."

Another key issue was the lack of opportunities for young people, who make up almost two-thirds of the population.

Many feel unrepresented by Mongolia's politicians, which has fuelled a rise in minor, liberal parties that directly target urban youth.

First-time voter Oyuntsetseg Khaliun, 19, told AFP she had supported the Civil Will-Green Party, which won four seats.

"The MPP was in power when I was a child, and still they are here," she said. "Life hasn't changed, look at the street."

She explained she often had to wait an hour for a bus in the winter, where temperatures in Mongolia's capital can plunge to as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit).

"We need to change the people in power to get rid of corruption."