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Mongolians vote for new legislature amid mining boom

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia -- Mongolians traveled by foot, car and horse to vote for a new legislature Thursday in an election that centered on better spreading the benefits of Mongolia's mining boom across the vast and still largely poor country.

A poll this month by the private, unaffiliated Sant Maral Foundation and commentators showed the opposition Democratic Party with a slight edge over the ruling Mongolian People's Party, though neither had the support to win an outright majority in the 76-seat parliament.

The main parties have offered variations on promises to use mining revenues to boost pensions, build needed infrastructure, subsidize local industries and otherwise enrich Mongolians.

The boom has already brought billions of dollars in investment to extract coal, copper, gold and other minerals and made Mongolia the world's fastest growing economy last year. If properly spent, the money could reverse the fortunes of the remote Alaska-sized country, which is landlocked between China and Russia and where a third of its 2.8 million people live in poverty.

“Today, we Mongolians face an important time to make a historic choice to address Mongolia's development and democracy,” said President Elbegdorj Tsakhia, a Democrat up for re-election next year, as he voted Thursday morning in the capital Ulan Bator.

The Democratic Party has cast itself as better placed to help the poor and unemployed and portrayed the ruling MPP as beholden to the rich. At the same time the MPP has been riven by internal splits. Influential former President Enkhbayar Nambar left to form his own party only to be charged with corruption and disqualified from running for office.

His enduring popularity, however, is expected to help Enkhbayar's party win some seats, potentially enough to give him a voice in forming a governing coalition.

A Soviet client state for decades, Mongolia has become a democracy prone to bare-knuckled politics. A close election four years ago ended with Democratic Party accusations of fraud and led to riots in which four died.

This election is the first in which voting is being tabulated by machines, though some parties have asked for recounts by hand because they mistrust the new technology.

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Herdsmen arrive at a traditional “ger” used as a polling station after voting during the Mongolian parliamentary elections in the village of Jaranneg on Thursday. Mongolians are voting to elect a new parliament tasked with distributing the spoils of a mining boom that has brought rapid growth but also rising inequality in the resource-rich nation. (AFP)

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