Democrats win Mongolia prez poll

ULAN BATOR: Mongolia's main opposition Democratic Party emerged triumphant from presidential elections in the landlocked nation that saw violent riots after disputed parliamentary polls last year.

State-owned network MNB declared that Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, the Democratic Party candidate, had defeated incumbent Nambaryn Enkhbayar of the ex-communist Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) in Sunday's polls.

Enkhbayar had conceded defeat, it added.

Official results had not yet been counted, however, and with memories of last year's electoral violence still fresh, Elbegdorj stopped short of formally declaring victory Monday.

"Actually, the people are declaring victory," he told AFP.

However, Citizens For Justice, a Mongolian non-governmental organisation, also projected a win for Elbegdorj, a former prime minister.

"The DP have won with 53.7 percent of the vote," said G. Arslan, an official with the organisation.

Although some Democratic Party supporters celebrated in the streets of the capital Ulan Bator as the news began to spread, the city was largely calm with no violence reported.

Last July, thousands rioted in Ulan Bator, leaving five people dead, following a disputed parliamentary election win by the MPRP in June.

Economic issues took centre stage in campaigning in a country -- sandwiched between Russia and China -- where more than one-third of the population lives below the poverty line.

The global economic crisis has led to plummeting mineral prices in a nation that relies heavily on resources such as copper, coal and gold, triggering a rise in unemployment.

However, some voters said they saw little difference between the two candidates, largely because their parties are partners in a parliamentary coalition pursuing roughly the same policies.

Elections in Mongolia -- one of the world's youngest democracies -- are routinely plagued by charges of fraud and bribery.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents questioned in a survey on popular website said this weekend's polls would be tainted by corruption.

The average salary here is only 200 US dollars a month.

In an attempt to prevent electoral fraud, Mongolians for the first time were required to present a special voter card when entering polling booths, as well as their identity documents.

Twenty-seven teams of observers, from the United States and international agencies, also toured polling booths in Ulan Bator, according to a statement released by the non-profit Asia Foundation.

Mongolia shook off communist rule in 1990 without a shot being fired, and the first democratic elections were held in 1992.

The MPRP was the ruling party during the country's seven decades as a Soviet satellite.