Mongolians vote for new parliament with economy on the rocks

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ULAANBAATAR Mongolians voted on Wednesday for a new parliament, with slowing growth topping the list of concerns for many, while the main opposition party promised to rein in spending and the ruling party looks to diversify a resource-reliant economy.

With just three million people, the remote country best known as the birthplace of Mongol emperor Genghis Khan has stood as an oasis of democracy, surrounded by single-party dominated regimes.

Mongolia’s political transformation since a peaceful revolution in 1990 has been a big draw for foreign investors eyeing its rich mineral resources, unleashing a boom from 2010 to 2012.

But an abrupt economic slowdown since 2012 has stirred controversy over the role of global mining firms such as Rio Tinto, which last month finally approved a $5.3-billion extension plan for the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine.

Polls suggest that voters, fed up with four years of slowing growth under the ruling Democratic Party, are likely to give more seats to the main opposition Mongolian People’s Party, which ruled from 2008 to 2012.

“We’ve had enough of the older guys,” said Badral Bayasal, a candidate for the Civil Movement Party. “Our generation of millennials are making a change, and it’s our time to express our voices.”

Both parties have promised higher wages for workers and a cut in government liabilities.

Stability during the MPP’s rule helped lure investors to Mongolia, nicknamed “Mine-golia” in the boom years. But it has since struggled to adapt to giant neighbor China’s reduced appetite for coal and copper, which has hit commodities prices.

Economic growth is projected at 0.4 percent this year by the IMF, a steep fall from 17.5 percent in 2011, the year before the Democratic Party took power.

Since 2012, Mongolia has borrowed billions of dollars in sovereign debt. In March, rating agency Moody’s gave it a negative outlook, citing the rising debt burden, a projected widening of budgetary imbalances and mining revenue shortfalls.

The MPP, which has held power most often since the 1990 reforms, has criticized the Democrats’ economic management and the borrowing spree, promising to reassess spending and tighten fiscal management.

“I’m thinking let’s support the Mongolian People’s party, when we vote for that party our lives, our future, our destiny will be much better,” Batsaikhan, a resident of the grasslands around Ulaanbaatar, the capital, said in comments aired on television.

For their part, the Democrats have defended the use of bond proceeds to help start new industries aiming to replace imports with domestic products and have pitched a plan for a wealth fund to make the economy resilient, and decentralize the government.

Election results are expected from Thursday.

At an appearance at a polling station in the capital, President Tsakhia Elbegdorj urged citizens to vote.

“Every person has the right to vote in the elections, but coming to the polling station is also the citizen’s duty,” he added.

(Additional reporting by Natalie Thomas; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Clarence Fernandez)



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