July 10, 2017 2:16 am JST

Mongolia's incoming President Battulga pledges economic balance

Former martial arts champ keeps presidency in opposition hands

SHUNSUKE TABETA, Nikkei staff writer

Battulga Khaltmaa's election victory keeps the Mongolian presidency in opposition hands.

ULAANBAATAR -- With Battulga Khaltmaa of Mongolia's leading opposition Democratic Party set to assume the presidency Monday, the former communist state could begin to significantly restructure its economy, reducing its reliance on neighboring China and strengthening ties to other world powers.

Mongolia's election commission on Sunday certified the results of Friday's runoff election, declaring Battulga the victor with 50.6% of the vote. The 54-year-old former martial arts star soundly defeated rival Enkhbold Miyegombo of the ruling Mongolian People's Party, who fetched 41.2% of the vote. Some 60.7% of Mongolia's 1.99 million eligible voters turned out.

Diversifying Mongolia's economic relations with the rest of the world is a top priority for the president-elect. Currently, China takes in some 80% of Mongolia's exports, the bulk of which are raw materials. The new government is expected to forge closer relations with partners such as Japan, Russia and the U.S., cultivating greater independence from its powerful neighbor. This strategy accords with the nationalist tone struck by Battulga's campaign, as well as his pledge to rectify conspicuous wealth inequality in the country.

Battulga's victory keeps the presidency in Democratic hands for four more years, after his predecessor Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj served for eight. The legislature remains overwhelmingly in the hands of the People's Party, which won 65 of the 76 seats in a general election last year. While the president holds veto power over legislative actions, the ruling party's supermajority lets it overrule those vetoes.

The president-elect nevertheless pledged Saturday night to work with his party's nine lawmakers to put pressure on the ruling party, and to work hard for the Mongolian people. Battulga will need to pick his battles carefully: Antagonizing the People's Party could bring legislative work to a halt.

Broad base

Battulga's path to power was a long and winding one. He began his career as an artist, only to rise to prominence as a world champion in sambo, a martial art originating in the Soviet Union. When Mongolia abandoned communism in 1990, Battulga founded Genco, a conglomerate that now boast operations ranging from hospitality and tourism to food production.

His involvement in sports continued all the while. Battulga in 2006 was named head of the Mongolia Judo Association, where he helped put together his country's delegation at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The men's judo team won Mongolia its first-ever Olympic gold medal that year. Former sumo champion Dagvadorj Dolgorsuren, who wrestled under the name Asashoryu, campaigned for Battulga, endearing him to younger voters.

Battulga's first electoral victory came in 2004, when he won a seat in Mongolia's parliament. He has held a variety of cabinet posts since the Democrats took the presidency, including minister of industry and agriculture and minister of roads, transportation, construction and urban development. Although he lost his seat as the party was dealt a defeat in the general election of 2016, the strong support Battulga enjoyed within his party as a presidential candidate apparently reflects sentiment shared by the Mongolian public.

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