Election may return hardliners to power

The Straits Times, 3 July 2000

Many voters say they are turning back to the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party because life was apparently better under communism

ULAN BATOR—The people of Mongolia converged on polling stations around the vast country yesterday to cast their votes in parliamentary elections expected to bring their former communist masters back to power.

Ironically, many voters said they were turning back to the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) because life was better under communism.

City dwellers and herdsmen have taken their democratic rights very seriously since the country broke free of Soviet domination in 1991, and turnout was expected to push the impressive 90 per cent of four years ago.

Yesterday’s election was only the third time Mongolia has gone to the polls to choose a new Parliament.

Out of a population of just 2.4 million, about 1.23 million are eligible to vote, of whom at least one third live in the capital, Ulan Bator.

Makeshift voting booths across the isolated grasslands, deserts and mountains of this nation three times the size of France opened at 7 am and closed at 10 pm. In some regions election officials on horseback galloped from tents to tents with mobile wooden ballot boxes.

Election officials said 59 per cent of the electorate had voted with five hours of voting still to go. A total of 603 candidates representing 13 parties, three coalitions and independent platforms are facing off for the 76 seats on offer in parliament, known as the Great Hural.

Opinion polls point to a victory for the MPRP, which was thrown out of power at the 1996 elections by a democratic coalition which has since splintered into competing factions.

There is strong dissatisfaction with the current government which has struggled to shake off four torrid years which saw four prime ministers, the unsolved murder of a popular minister and the jailing of three MPs in a corruption scandal.

Mr Boldbaatar, an unemployed 30-year-old in Gachuurt, a rural town outside Ulan Bator, said he was throwing his support to the MPRP.

Their platform gives me hope that they won’t fail the people of Mongolia, the son of herders said.

The MPRP’s reformist leader, 42-year-old Nambariin Enkhbayar, said his party, which ruled Mongolia with an iron grip until the collapse of the Soviet Union, long ago ditched its communist clothes.

Preliminary results were expected early today, but final official results will not be available until next week.

--AFP, Reuters