June 25, 2017 1:31 am JST

Mongolian presidential election neck and neck

Corruption allegations dog front-runner as rival stokes patriotism

SHUNSUKE TABETA, Nikkei staff writer

The top billboard is a campaign ad for Miyegombo Enkhbold, while the bottom, for Khaltmaa Battulga, says "Mongolia wins."

ULAANBAATAR -- Mongolians will vote for a new president on Monday, choosing from among three fresh faces to replace Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, whose second four-year term ends next month.

The race has been led by Miyegombo Enkhbold of the ruling Mongolian People's Party, who is currently chairman of the State Great Khural, the parliament. While Enkbold struggles to extend his lead, rival Khaltmaa Battulga of the Democratic Party, is closing in by tapping into young voters' patriotism.

"I will bring back Mongolia's rich resources to the 3 million people of Mongolia," Battulga, also president of the Mongolian Judo Association, said at a rally at a square here in the capital on Thursday. The candidate spoke with passion, and the crowd applauded.

Mongolia's president also serves as the supreme commander of the country's armed forces and possesses veto power over decisions made by parliament.

Enkhbold, the candidate from the ruling MPP, which won a sweeping victory in last year's general election, has served as prime minister. He calls for "unity," for fiscal reforms that he says are in step with global trends and for economic reforms that will be helped by a return of foreign investment.

Although his victory was initially seen as almost certain, he is struggling to gain further ground amid allegations of corruption when he was the mayor of the capital as well as questions regarding his campaign finances and roster of ministers.

Recent polls show Enkhbold and Battulga are neck and neck with support rates of 30% each. Behind them is Sainkhuugiin Ganbaatar, a former head of an association of labor unions, who is seen winning about 10% to 20% of the vote. His support base is mainly seniors. But Ganbaatar has also fallen under a cloud. A video was released of him receiving a donation from a foreign organization.

Although support is growing for Battulga, the successful businessman is also not free from allegations. He has been accused of hiding over $898 million overseas and having deep ties to Russia.

If none of the three candidates wins a majority on Monday, there will be a runoff between the top two. It would be the first runoff since the country held its first presidential election in 1993.

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