ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (AP) – The Mongolian People’s Party maintained a strong parliamentary majority, the provisional election results showed on Thursday, as the US-Allied nation between Russia and China remained wedged between economic and economic problems.
The MPP gained 62 out of 76 seats, while the Opposition Democratic Party gained 11 seats and three others were taken by independents and coalitions, the General Election Commission said Thursday.
People followed strict social distance measures in Wednesday’s vote in a vast landlocked country that has had significant success in fighting off the corona virus. Voters kept 2 meters (6.5 feet) between them as they lined up at polling stations in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Once inside the polling station, election workers checked their temperature and distributed hand sanitizer.
Mongolia registered only 215 cases of COVID-19, all imported and no one died.
The election result is the first time that a single party has an absolute majority in successive elections. Previously, the Mongolian People’s Party and the Democratic Party had taken turns using a majority in the state of Greater Khural or being forced to form coalition governments.
The overwhelming victory will allow Prime Minister Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh to freely form a new cabinet or keep his current cabinet without encountering any opposition.
However, he will have to work with Democratic Party president Khaltmaagiin Battulga, who was elected in 2017 and was not on the ballot box.
Economic slump, corruption and weak public services dominated the concerns of the country’s 3.2 million people, about half of whom live in Ulaanbaatar.
Voter turnout was over 73% of the country’s 2 million eligible voters, indicating the continued strength of Mongolia’s democratic system instituted after a new constitution was passed in 1992 after six decades of communism.
The majority of the MPP has fallen slightly from the 65 seats it won in the 2016 elections. Some scattered rural communities had not yet reported their results, but this was not expected to have a significant impact on the final result.
The MPP’s victory was seen as based in part on its general prowess in regulating government affairs and deft handling of COVID-19.
Mongolia quickly closed its borders in January to prevent the virus from spreading on its territory. Those generally diagnosed are Mongols who have returned from Russia and other nearby countries. According to the Ministry of Health, 158 have been restored and 57 remain in treatment and isolation.
Health Minister Sarantuya Davaajantsan was re-elected with one of the highest votes in her district, which seemed to confirm the way the government had handled the pandemic.
Mongolia’s biggest plus is its sheer mineral wealth, but it has struggled to attract foreign investment due to plummeting commodity prices and disputes with major investors such as mining giant Rio Tinto.
Corruption and public debt, which has reached USD 23 billion, or twice the country’s annual economic output, have also put a major brake on the economy. More than 30% of the Mongolian population lives below the poverty line, and despite the success of fighting infection, the pandemic will shrink the economy as prices rise.
Among the six candidates who campaigned from prison, former Prime Minister Erdenebat Jargaltulga won in his home province of Selenge in northern Mongolia by a large majority.
Jargaltulga was jailed in 2017 after being charged with abuse of power and favoritism. It is unclear whether the investigation into his alleged wrongdoings will continue after his election.
Mongolia has sought to maintain its political and economic independence from both Soviet-era patron Moscow – which supplies almost all of its energy needs – and China’s growing regional power, which buys more than 90% of its mining exports, primarily coal and copper.
Washington has sought to encourage good governance and the growth of civil society in Mongolia, along with joint military exercises, and to make Mongolia a NATO partner country. Many Mongolia call the US their country’s “third neighbor” in recognition of the many divergent exchanges between the two that help counteract both Russian and Chinese influence.
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