June 27, 2017 / 2:57 AM / 2 months ago

Mongolia's presidential election forced into a second round

Presidential candidate Khaltmaa Battulga gestures outside a polling station after casting his ballot in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, June 26, 2017.B. Rentsendorj

ULAANBAATAR (Reuters) - No candidate has won an outright victory in Mongolia's presidential election meaning the first ever run-off between two leading candidates will be held next month, the General Election Committee said on Tuesday.

A populist former martial arts star Khaltmaa Battulga of the opposition Democratic Party won the most votes in the Monday election, but failed to secure the majority required, the committee said.

He will face ruling Mongolian People's Party (MPP) candidate Miyeegombo Enkhbold, who came second, in a run-off on July 9, the committee's chairman, Choinzon Tsodnomtseren, told a news briefing.

The election has been seen as a referendum on the government's economic recovery plans and China's role in the remote, resource-rich country known as the birthplace of Mongol emperor Genghis Khan.

Battulga, who is regarded as a resource nationalist who is suspicious of Mongolia's giant neighbour to the south, had been confident about his chances.

"I never lose, I must win. I always win in the history of my life," Battulga told Reuters in an interview late on Monday, before the preliminary results were announced.

After final tallies from districts came in overnight, Battulga emerged with 517,478 votes, 38.1 percent of the total, according to Mongolian state television.

Enkhbold of the ruling MPP, regarded as pro-investment and market-friendly, scraped through to the second round with 411,748 votes, 30.3 percent of the total.

Enkhbold, an establishment politician and the speaker of parliament, appears to have suffered as a result of his party's austerity policies.

Election officials count votes in the presidential election in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, June 26, 2017.B. Rentsendorj

AUSTERITY

The government was forced to implement austerity measures to secure a $5.5 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund in May.

The administration raised interest rates and slashed public spending last year to try to cope with heavy debt and a precipitous fall in the value of Mongolia's currency, the tugrik.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Enkhbold, who was favourite in the run-up to the vote, was trailing in third place for much of the count after a stronger than expected performance by Sainkhuu Ganbaatar of the breakaway Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP).

Ganbaatar finished with 30.2 percent, trailing Enkhbold by fewer than 2,000 votes, and is eliminated from the contest.

All three presidential candidates promised to fix economic problems but their campaigns were clouded by corruption allegations.

Geert-Hinrich Ahrens, leading a delegation of election observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, expressed concern about electoral transparency.

Though Ahrens said attempts to bribe voters were not witnessed, "the rumours were rather massive".

Turnout was 68.27 percent, and included more than 18,000 ballots left blank by voters protesting against the choice of candidates.

Mongolia is a parliamentary democracy. The government is run by a prime minister, but the president has powers to veto legislation and make judicial appointments.

Writing by David Stanway; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel

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