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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Former martial arts star Battulga wins Mongolian presidential election

The poll was seen as a referendum on the government's economic recovery plans and the role of southern neighbour China.

Khaltmaa Battulga, from the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), gives a thumbs up to the crowd after winning the presidential election in Ulan Bator on July 8, 2017. Byambasuren Byamba-Ochir / AFP
Khaltmaa Battulga, from the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), gives a thumbs up to the crowd after winning the presidential election in Ulan Bator on July 8, 2017. Byambasuren Byamba-Ochir / AFP

ULAANBAATAR // A former martial arts star and businessman has won Mongolia's presidential run-off election.

Khaltmaa Battulga, of the opposition Democratic Party, won with 50.7 percent of the vote on a 60.9 percent turnout, giving him the majority needed to overcome his opponent, parliament speaker Miyeegombo Enkhbold of the ruling Mongolian People's Party.

Mr Battulga, 54, rose to fame as a Mongolian wrestler. He is a former world champion in the Soviet martial art Sambo, His businesses include a hotel, a Genghis Khan-themed amusement park, and baked goods and meat companies.

The poll was seen as a referendum on the government's economic recovery plans and the role of southern neighbour China in Mongolia, a landlocked country rich in natural resources and known as as the birthplace of Mongol emperor Genghis Khan.

Voter data was released on Saturday by the General Election Commission. About 87 pet cent of the votes have been counted but but election officials are still awaiting a final count of votes from abroad.

The election campaign was marred by political mudslinging from all sides and the public perception that none of the candidates was fit for the job, according to Luvsanvandan Sumati, the head of polling group the Sant Maral Foundation. He called the election "the worst election in Mongolian history."

Mr Enkhbold's loss was definitive. He trailed far behind Mr Battulga with 41.2 percent of the vote due to the nearly 100,000 blank votes submitted in protest at the choice of candidates.

Friday's run-off was scheduled after the June 26 vote failed to result in an outright winner.

Some investors have been wary of a Battulga presidency because of his calls for more state control of some mines and his suspicions of China, Mongolia's biggest trade partner.

Despite past protests, he has said he will stand behind plans to build a key railway to China from the enormous Tavan Tolgoi coal mine and has praised China's Belt and Road pan-Asian infrastructure initiative.

"He may push projects that are politically motivated but not economically justified," said one institutional investor with a special interest in Mongolia.

Tsakhia Elbegdorj will step down as president after finishing his second and final term.

Mr Battulga's opponent, Mr Enkhbold has stood behind the current government and prime minister, pledging to stay the course for economic recovery following a $5.5 billion(Dh20.2 billion) rescue package from the International Monetary Fund and partners in May.

Mr Battulga captured the attention of voters who feel Mongolia received a bad deal on investments and promises greater government control of strategic enterprises, such as the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine, owned by Rio Tinto.

Mongolia is a parliamentary democracy. The government is run by a prime minister, but the president has the power to veto legislation and make judicial appointments.