Mongolians Go to the Polls with Mining on Their Minds

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"A win by Elbegdorj could complicate policy making on mining. . ."

From remote grasslands to the heart of the capital, Mongolians cast their ballots on Sunday to elect a new president residents and investors hope will facilitate the country's efforts to tap its vast mineral wealth.

The tight race between incumbent Nambariin Enkhbayar of the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) and opposition Democratic Party (DP) candidate Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj is seen as a barometer of how soon the country will be able to reach a deal with foreign investors on a landmark mining deal.

Any repeat of the type of unrest and ensuing legal struggles that followed last year's parliamentary elections, in which five died, could postpone approval of a draft investment agreement on developing the pivotal Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold project.

Coming at a time when the young Central Asian democracy has been hit hard by falling mineral prices, the election pits Enkhbayar's pledge to beef up the rule of law against Elbegdorj's promises of change and fighting corruption. Both are dangling payouts from mining revenues and further help for students.

"The most important thing the new president needs to do is develop the country, to pull us out of poverty," said Davaadorjiin Suvdaa, a 56-year-old retired worker.

A win by Elbegdorj could complicate policy making on mining, given his track record of anti-foreign and populist inclinations, analysts say.

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