Mongolia topples the old rulers

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The Independent Online
Ulan Bator (Reuter) - Mongolia's opposition Democratic Union Coalition stormed to a landslide victory in parliamentary elections yesterday, toppling the ex-Communists who have ruled the vast land of steppes for 75 years.

The democrats swept more than double the seats won by the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, capturing 48 of 76 seats in the Great Hural, or parliament, up from just six in 1992. The scale of victory surprised the opposition itself.

"This was a very important election," said Enkhsaikhan, the head of the opposition coalition. "We are setting the sights of the Mongolian people into the next century."

Sunday's polls were the second for the Great Hural under a post-Communist constitution which was adopted in 1992 after democratic protests ended Communist rule in 1990.

The opposition coalition won 48 seats. Non-party candidates running under the coalition's banner won three seats. The former Communist MPRP saw its 70-seat majority slashed to a total of only 23 seats. Results of the final five seats had yet to be tallied.

A cheering crowd of hundreds - dancing, hugging each other and weeping for joy at the surprise victory - greeted victorious coalition officials at their headquarters after the election committee announced the initial results.

"This means for the coalition and for us that for the first time ... in the contemporary history of Mongolia, we are democratic," said the SDP's party chief, Gonchigdorj.

"We have a heavy task on our shoulders but we are happy that the task is on us," Gonchigdorj added. "We have made a contract with the people and now we will implement that contract."

The defeated MPRP refused to make a formal comment.

"This is the choice of the nation," an MPRP official who declined to be identified said. "I would like to congratulate our young people, but they have to keep their promises."

Analysts said the polls appeared to be free and fair, with much of the voting split along age lines. Older voters opted for the MPRP, while the younger favoured the opposition, which campaigned for faster economic liberalisation and political reform.

"I don't think anyone considered they would actually win, including themselves," said a Western diplomat. "It's a total surprise."

Coalition officials said the immediate task was to form a government and tackle economic and social problems that have racked the country of 2.3 million people, many of whom are nomadic cattle- and sheep-herders, in its transition from Soviet-style planning to a free market democracy. The democrats faced a tough job, officials said.

"Of course, first I'm happy, but second I'm a little scared about what we have to do," said one victorious opposition candidate. "We have a big responsibility."

Gonchigdorj declined to comment on whom the coalition would nominate for the post of prime minister. But he said he was a likely candidate to become speaker of parliament.