Polling underway in Mongolia

ULAN BATOR: Polls opened across Mongolia Sunday as the country voted for a new president less than a year after allegations of vote-rigging in parliamentary elections triggered deadly riots.

Early risers, mainly older people in traditional silk coats, queued under clear blue skies from 7:00 am (2300 GMT Saturday) at polling stations in Ulan Bator, the nation's capital.

The race for the presidency is between incumbent Nambaryn Enkhbayar of the former communist Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) and Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, the ex-leader of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP).

Elections in Mongolia, one of the world's youngest democracies, are routinely plagued by rumours of fraud and bribery -- and last year were blighted by riots in the streets of Ulan Bator that left five dead.

The unrest shocked the Mongolian people, who pride themselves that their nation managed to emerge from communism 19 years ago after a peaceful revolution in which no shots were fired.

"I hope there won't be riots this time," said Garda, a 75-year-old retiree who like many Mongolians just uses one name, and who had decided to vote for Enkhbayar.

"He did a great job in the past four years and he needs time to finish what he started," he said.

But for Tseren, a 32-year-old businesswoman, unrest was a strong possibility.

"I think we should have riots if Enkhbayar wins because he plays a dirty game," she said on her way to a polling booth in the centre of Ulan Bator to vote for Elbegdorj

"I hate Elbegdorj, but we have to have change," she added.

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

A total of 27 teams of observers from the United States and international agencies were also touring the polling booths of Ulan Bator, according to a statement released by the Asia Foundation, a non-profit organisation.

The polls close Sunday at 10:00 pm.