Mongolia's ruling party keeps big majority after success against Covid-19

Prime Minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa's party retained its grip on power, with only one seat lost. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Mongolia's ruling party retained a super-majority after parliamentary elections, as the government's relative success against the coronavirus outbreak offset concerns about corruption and the erosion of democratic institutions.

Mongolian People's Party (MPP) appeared poised to secure at least 62 of the 76 seats in the Great State Khural, according to preliminary results released on Thursday (June 25) by the General Election Commission in Ulaanbaatar.

The result reaffirms Prime Minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa's grip on power, representing a loss of only one seat in Parliament.

The main opposition Democratic Party - led by former prime minister Amarjargal Rinchinnyam - won 11 seats, while independents and coalition groups secured three others. More than 600 candidates competed in Wednesday's election, the country's first since the MPP's landslide win four years ago.

Since taking the premier's post in 2017, Khurelsukh has strengthened his political position through unlikely cooperation with President Battulga Khaltmaa, 57, of the rival DP. They pushed through a series of legislative changes last year including the removal of measures intended to protect the independence of the courts and anti-corruption investigators. Khurelsukh also secured new powers to select Cabinet members and extended the length of the president's term.

The shift has fuelled concerns that Mongolia's status as an "oasis of democracy" between Russia and China may be under threat three decades after the country's first open election in 1990. The authorities took the unprecedented step in recent weeks of arresting five candidates, including three from the DP and two members of the MPP.

Such scandals have helped weaken support for the two main political parties, amid broader concerns about coronavirus outbreaks and a sudden drop in exports. That's helped fuel a surge in independent candidates - with 121 running for seats this year - and unflattering comparisons to other countries seen as suffering from a decline in democratic institutions.

The MPP managed to not only overcome that criticism, but also the fallout from a Covid-driven economic downturn. A short-term ban on sending coal to China in February sent exports sliding 38.5 per cent in the first five months of the year, and Mongolia reported a 10.7 per cent economic contraction for the first quarter.

Mongolia has managed to keep its coronavirus cases low by closing its border, banning public gatherings and establishing curfews on restaurants and pubs, giving Khurelsukh a boost. The country has confirmed 215 cases and no deaths.

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