Voting underway in Mongolia presidential election
By GANBAT NAMJILSANGARAV
ULAN BATOR, Mongolia (AP) -- Mongolians cast ballots Wednesday in the country's presidential election, with the Harvard-educated incumbent expected to hold off challenges from a popular ex-wrestler and a physician who is the country's first woman to seek the top office.
Elbegdorj Tsakhia held a strong lead in pre-election polling, heavily backed by the urban middle class in the capital, Ulan Bator, where about half of Mongolia's 3 million people live.
Elbegdorj has campaigned heavily on the success of the anti-graft drive of his first four-year term, along with his credentials as a leader of the 1990 uprising that ended 70 years of communism and established one of the region's most vibrant democracies.
In recent years, Mongolia's economy has taken off on the back of a mining boom, and a key election issue has been how ordinary Mongolians can benefit more from it. A third of the country lives in poverty.
Elbegdorj's two challengers have pledged to review contracts with foreign mining companies that some say shortchange the Mongolian people. The boom has created vast wealth, but also fueled inflation and worsened inequality and corruption among the ruling class.
Elbegdorj's main rival, opposition Mongolian People's Party lawmaker Baterdene Badmaanyambuu, is a former wrestling champion who has portrayed himself as a clean politician committed to upholding national unity and fighting the environmental degradation brought by the mining industry.
Baterdene has successfully leveraged the respect ordinary Mongolians have for their traditional athletes to win three terms to the Great Hural, Mongolia's parliament.
A third candidate, Health Minister Udval Natsag, is Mongolia's first woman to vie for the presidency and a staunch backer of former President Enkhbayar Nambar, now serving time in jail for corruption.
Elbegdorj's Democratic Party controls the legislature under Prime Minister Altankhuyag Norov, although elections for that body are not due until 2016.
Elbegdorj, who has a degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, was elected president in 2009 after serving two terms as prime minister.
Along with fighting graft, he has promised to enact further legal reforms, increase public participation in government decision-making and boost Mongolia's participation in global institutions.
Polls opened at 7:00 a.m. (2300 GMT Tuesday) in the landlocked, Alaska-sized nation of 3 million people wedged between China and Russia, and were to close at 10:00 p.m. (1400 GMT).
Vodka sales were banned in the capital to head off possible election violence of the type that killed five people following contested parliamentary elections in 2008.
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