Monday, June 30, 2008

Awaiting Election Results

Polling stations have closed, and we may have a long wait for the results of yesterday’s elections in Mongolia. Russian observers say the voting went off without a hitch, but some minor party candidates have already complained that the vote was not fair. Supporters of the Civic Movement Party grabbed ballot boxes in the capital but were chased down by police. The General Election Committee condemned the attack.

About 74% of the nation’s 1.5 million registered voters participated in the polling, down slightly from the 81% who voted in the election of 2004, which left a hung State Great Khural, with neither of the two major parties able to establish a firm government. Now, the discovery of extensive mineral wealth and concerns over unbridled inflation (15.1% last year) have combined to make this a high-stakes election. Per capita income in the country stands at just $1,500 a year.

Both the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party and the Mongolian Democratic Party support investment agreements to allow the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold project in the Gobi Desert to proceed. Ivanhoe Mines and Rio Tinto, the developers of the project, suggest that this mine could boost Mongolia’s GDP by 34% and could be followed by uranium and coal extraction projects.

More than 350 candidates from 12 parties and one coalition ran in the election. Smaller parties argue that allowing the developers to proceed under current contracts would rob Mongolia of its wealth and do irreparable harm to the environment. The law currently gives the government a 50% share in any project where state funds are used and a 34% share in others. A recent proposal would give Mongolia a 51% share in any major project. The MPRP would centralize those holdings in the Mongolian government, and give each citizen a “Gift of the Motherland,” a cash dividend of $1,300 once mining starts. The DP, on the other hand, advocates a Mongolian holding corporation, in which all Mongolians are stakeholders, as well as giving a “Treasure Share” of $860 to each Mongolian. Both parties are also pushing greater economic independence for Mongolia through increased agricultural initiatives and further exploration for oil and natural gas. Currently, Mongolia imports 90% of its oil and natural gas from Russia, a fact Russia has recently used for economic blackmail.

Although the minor parties are unlikely to grab a large percentage of the vote, they may be in a significant position for negotiating if the parliament is again largely split. The MPRP claims that they have secured a majority of the votes in the countryside (40 to 50 of the 76 seats up for grabs), but other reports suggest a dead heat, which might result in a deadlock that could stall key mining deals.

Votes in the capital (typically a DP stronghold) remain uncounted, and there is confusion in some areas due to a new voting system. The old system had each constituency vote for one member of parliament. Now, there are fewer constituencies, but each one votes for several seats in the Great Khural. Voters have been confused, with some circling too many names on the ballot, invalidating their vote. Counting has also been slowed because pollworkers can no longer just stack up ballots as they did before when only one name was circled per ballot. The election committee is suggesting that results may not be available today.

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