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article imageCandidate cries foul as Mongolia heads toward runoff vote

By Yanan WANG (AFP)     Jun 26, 2017 in Politics

The third-place finisher in Mongolia's presidential vote cried foul and demanded a recount on Tuesday after electoral authorities declared he was narrowly beaten for a spot in next month's runoff election.

The drama capped a campaign marked by corruption scandals plaguing all three candidates that overshadowed voter concerns over unemployment in the debt-laden country wedged between Russia and China.

The result of Monday's vote was put off by several hours until Tuesday morning, angering supporters of Sainkhuu Ganbaatar of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP).

"We should recount it, otherwise we lose our democracy," Ganbaatar told AFP. "They are violating people's votes."

Former judoka Khaltmaa Battulga of the opposition Democratic Party finished first with 38 percent of the vote, the General Election Committee said, well short of the 51 percent majority needed to win outright.

The country's electoral authorities said the runoff -- Mongolia's first ever -- would be held on July 9.

Speaking at the parliament building Tuesday, Battulga said the run-off date -- just days before the long national holiday of Naadam -- was a "dirty trick to keep turnout low".

Ganbaatar had been in second place in the early vote count but he eventually was overtaken by parliament speaker Mieygombo Enkhbold of the Mongolian People's Party (MPP), who squeaked by with a 0.1 percentage point edge.

The MPRP filed a request for a recount with the committee and planned to do the same before the courts.

"I don't accept the results of the General Election Committee," Ganbaatar told a news conference. "Our citizens are fighting back. We can't accept this."

He added: "The Election Committee has become a place of fraudulent activity. It has made a mockery of our people."

Ganbaatar said a foreigner was on the election committee and influenced the vote, but he refused to elaborate on his claim.

Enkhbold said he supported the idea of a recount.

"If they really think that something went wrong, I believe that it would be correct to have a recount," he told a press conference. "If (Ganbaatar) has any doubts, we can check the ballots together."

A screen shows election at a press center during the Mongolian presidential vote in the capital Ulan...
A screen shows election at a press center during the Mongolian presidential vote in the capital Ulan Bator

Members of the MPRP held a protest at the General Election Committee office early Tuesday, according to the head of the electoral body, Choizon Sodnomtseren.

Sodnomtseren defended the delay in announcing the result, saying someone had broken a broadband cable in Gobi-Altai province, preventing the results from several polling stations from being counted until Tuesday morning. He said it was an act of "deliberate sabotage".

The MPRP demanded that Sodnomtseren step down.

- Slew of scandals -

Ganbaatar, who was a surprise entry in the election, is a former independent legislator and trade union leader.

His candidacy was endangered during the campaign after a video emerged allegedly showing him receiving a $44,000 donation from a member of the South Korean-based Unification Church.

The other two candidates were also mired in controversy.

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

Battulga, a brash businessman, 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.

All three rejected the allegations against them.

The scandals meant voters heard little from the three candidates about unemployment and jobs, their top concerns according to opinion polls.

Khaltmaa Battulga  from the main opposition Democratic Party (DP)  speaks to journalists after votin...
Khaltmaa Battulga, from the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), speaks to journalists after voting at a polling station during the Mongolian presidential election in Ulan Bator

The resource-rich nation of just three million has struggled in recent years with mounting debt.

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

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