Mongolians vote in their first presidential runoff

Mongolian election law stipulates that a candidate must garner at least 51 percent of the vote to secure the presidency

Mongolians head to the polls on Friday in the country's first-ever presidential runoff after the first round elections failed to produce a clear winner following campaigns tainted by corruption scandals. Businessman and judoka Khaltmaa Battulga of the opposition Democratic Party (DP), who led the first round, faces parliament speaker Mieygombo Enkhbold of the ruling Mongolian People's Party (MPP). Enkhbold eked out a mere 0.1 percent victory over the Mongolian Revolutionary People's Party's Sainkhuu Ganbaatar in last week's first round, which was mired in controversy. Ganbaatar cried foul and demanded a recount, but the result was eventually confirmed. Many voters in the resource-rich but debt-laden country wedged between Russia and China are so fed up with their scandal-plagued politicians that they launched a movement dubbed "#WhiteChoice" to encourage people to submit blank ballots. Mongolian election law stipulates that a candidate must garner at least 51 percent of the vote to secure the presidency. If neither candidate reaches this number, the parties will be required to nominate different representatives for an entirely new election. Both Battulga and Enkhbold were linked to scandals ahead of the first-round vote. A video showed Enkhbold and two MPP officials allegedly discussing a $60 billion tugrik ($25 million) plan for selling government positions. Battulga was haunted by reports of offshore accounts attached to his name, as well as the arrests of several of his associates by Mongolia's anti-corruption body last spring. But in the nearly two weeks between the first round and the runoff, public opinion appeared to turn in favour of the brash businessman, said Julian Dierkes, a Mongolia scholar at the University of British Columbia. "It does seem a little bit like Enkhbold is, if not nosediving, certainly not on the upswing," Dierkes told AFP. He noted that the MPP, which holds the majority of parliamentary seats but not the presidency, announced on Tuesday that Mongolian parents would be a given a monthly 20,000 tugrik ($8) allowance for every child. The move is at odds with the country's promise to limit mass cash handouts in order to meet the requirements of its $5.5 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout. As no campaigning was permitted between the two election rounds, the MPP's gesture gave Enkhbold's camp "a look of desperation," Dierkes said. But Battulga's party had made its own share of promises: On Monday, DP officials pledged that if Battulga was elected, he would order the government to cover students' tuition loans and herders' debts.