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Former Mongolian Prime Minister Ukhnaa Khurelsukh is now the country’s sixth democratically elected president, further consolidating the role of the ruling Mongolian People’s Party (MPP).
Khurelsukh, who resigned as prime minister after protests earlier this year, had a considerable lead over Sodnomzundui Erdene of the opposition Democratic Party on Wednesday after most of the votes in the national election were tallied.
Khurelsukh will replace incumbent Khaltmaa Battulga, who could not seek re-election following changes to Mongolia’s constitution restricting presidents to one term in office.
Khurelsukh’s victory follows a low-key campaign amid COVID-19 restrictions, as outdoor events were canceled on Saturday after the outsider candidate Dangaasuren Enkhbat of the National Labor Party tested positive for COVID-19.
Mongolia’s hybrid political system allows its elected parliament to appoint governments and decide policy, but the president can also veto legislation and hire and fire judges.
As the presidency is often controlled by the opposition party, the division of power has led to a political deadlock that many believe has compromised Mongolia’s development.
While Khurelsukh’s election may give the MPP more control over the levers of power, he must relinquish his party affiliation once he assumes the position.
Chairperson of governing Mongolian People’s Party Ukhnaa Khurelsukh wins presidential electionhttps://t.co/1FDp13pSYO
The Democratic Party campaigned under the slogan “Mongolia without Dictatorship," as Erdene alleged that the country was sliding towards a one-party state.
It is still unknown what the MPP’s consolidation of power will mean for Mongolia’s largest foreign investment project, the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine run by Rio Tinto, which Ulaanbaatar has sought to renegotiate as construction costs skyrocket.
Inequality is a significant concern among Mongolians, as the poverty rate remains at 28 percent. While traditionally heavily influenced by nomadic culture, more than two-thirds of the population now live in cities.
The country is also hard hit by climate change, leading to desertification and pollution. Temperatures range from minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit) in the winter to 30C (86F) in the summer.