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article imageMartial arts expert clinches Mongolian presidential election

By Khaliun Bayartsogt (AFP)     Jul 8, 2017 in Sports

A brash businessman with martial arts skills clinched Mongolia's first-ever presidential runoff election Saturday after his opponent conceded defeat in the scandal-plagued race to take the helm of the resource-rich but debt-laden country.

Khaltmaa Battulga of the opposition Democratic Party (DP), a 54-year-old former world champion in the Soviet martial art Sambo, had 50.6 percent of the vote with 986 ballots outstanding, according to the General Election Commission.

Parliament speaker Mieygombo Enkhbold of the Mongolian People's Party (MPP), which holds the majority in the legislature, had lagged well-behind the wrestler since early Saturday morning.

Recognising he was down for the count, he thanked his supporters in a concession speech broadcast on Facebook, saying that he would "respect and accept the presidential results."

"Although the MPP couldn't succeed in this election, the cabinet will keep working to complete our agenda of overcoming the financial crisis for the well being of our people," he said, adding that he had spoken to the sitting president about "transferring power as well as presidential stamp in the parliament house which also ends the election."

"We did this thanks to power of people," Battulga told supporters in Ulan Bator's Independence Square, promising that he would "push the government in order to complete all their work."

The new president will inherit a $5.5 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout designed to stabilise its economy and lessen its dependence on China, which purchases 80 percent of Mongolian exports.

The former Soviet satellite's economy grew by a measly one percent last year, a stark contrast from an impressive 17 percent in 2011.

It has been hit hard by a more than 50 percent fall in the price of copper, its main export, over the past five years, while slowing growth in its biggest customer China has hobbled the economy.

Earlier in the day, Battulga, who ran on a populist, anti-China platform, told a press conference "Mongolia has won."

"I will start work straight away to resolve the economic difficulties and make Mongolians debt free as I promised," he said.

The real estate tycoon whose company funded a massive $4.1 million statue of emperor Genghis Khan, has pledged to tap the country's mining wealth to get Mongolians out of debt.

Both Battulga and Enkhbold were linked to scandals ahead of the first-round vote.

A video showed Enkhbold and two MPP officials allegedly discussing a $60 billion tugrik ($25 million) plan for selling government positions.

Battulga was haunted by reports of offshore accounts attached to his name, as well as the arrests of several of his associates by Mongolia's anti-corruption body last spring.

But in the nearly two weeks between the first round and the runoff, public opinion appeared to turn in favour of Battulga.

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