Polls have opened for the Mongolian presidential election, with surveys suggesting incumbent Tsakhia Elbegdorj will win a second term. All three candidates are promising fairer wealth distribution from a mining boom. Voters in Mongolia went to the polls on Wednesday morning with election campaigning dominated by a national debate over mineral rights. Recent polls indicate that President Elbegdorj will retain the presidency, campaigning on a policy of using foreign cash to drive development. Since he was elected for a first term in 2009, Elbegdorj has also led a drive against corruption.Elbegdorj’s main challenger is likely to be Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) candidate Baterdene Badmaanyambuu, a former champion wrestler. Baterdene – who is particularly popular among rural voters – has portrayed himself as being committed to upholding national unity and has helped to draw up a new environmental protection law amid concern about the ravages of the recent mining boom.
The president has little executive power, but does enjoy important powers of veto and appointment. Although a ceremonial head of state, the president also gives advice to the prime minister on matters of national security and foreign policy and would be expected to have some influence regarding mineral rights and foreign investors.
Foreign companies have poured into Mongolia in recent years, keen to exploit the country’s extensive and largely untapped coal, copper and gold reserves. Elbegdorj’s opponents are pressing for all mineral rights to be kept in Mongolian hands.
The largest mining project is the Oyu Tolgoi mine, a joint venture between the Anglo-Australian enterprise Rio Tinto and Canada’s Turquoise Hill Resources. The mine is expected to produce some 450,000 metric tons of copper concentrate each year, which would generate as much as one-third of government revenue by 2019. The first shipments from the mine were temporarily blocked.