Mongolia’s president has declared a four-day state of emergency after deadly riots in the capital to protest election results. Nambaryn Enkhbayar ordered the state of emergency yesterday after the ruling party headquarters of the ruling party was torched. Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to beat back violent protesters who smashed their way into the building. Others pushed their way into the General Election Commission offices to demand that officials resign over voting irregularities. At least five people have been killed since the weekend and another 300 injured. The capital Ulan Bator was sealed off today and police have set up roadblocks to enforce a blockade.
The crowd thinned slightly this morning after the emergency declaration, though some protesters had begun looting paintings from an art gallery while others vandalised parked cars. The country’s Minister of Justice and Home Affairs Munkhorgil said Ulan Bator was now under a 10pm to 8am curfew. "Police will use necessary force to crack down on criminals who are looting private and government property," he warned.
The riot occurred when several thousand people gathered on to the streets of the capital after results emerged from Sunday’s election. Preliminary returns showed the ruling ex-Communist Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) has claimed victory with at least 45 seats in the 76-seat parliament (known as the State Great Khural http://www.parl.gov.mn/) but the opposition Democrats, who took 26 seat, allege fraud. Their Party leader Tsakhia Elbegdorj said his party was robbed of victory but the MPRP and international election monitors say the vote was free and fair.
This is the fifth election since Mongolia adopted wide-ranging economic and politic reform after the collapse of Communism. The MPRP ruled the country in a Soviet-style one party government for seven decades between 1921 and 1990. Their superior organisation helped them win the first two free elections in 1990 and 1992 until their 75 year was ended in 1996 when the opposition parties united to form the Democrats. They ruled until 2004 when a close vote in that year’s election forced the two major parties into an uneasy coalition which lasted just two years. The transition to democracy in the last 18 years has been remarkably peaceful until the events of this week.
Mongolia is struggling to modernise its nomadic, agriculture-based economy. Annual income averages just $1,500 a year in the sparse country of about 3 million people spread across an area three times the size of Spain. However recently, Mongolia has discovered a rich lode of copper, gold and coal and the country is hoping to tap into neighbouring China’s resources boom. In the election, the MPRP and Democrats both campaigned on how to tap these huge mineral deposits but disagreed over whether they should be managed by the government or private sector. The disagreement meant the outgoing parliament could not pass an amendment to the Minerals Law to allow the government seal investment agreements with international mining giants to develop mineral deposits in the Gobi Desert.
The current law gives the government 50 percent of the deposit and the MPRP proposed to increase that by one percent to give it outright control. But the Democrats say that control should stay in private hands. Large multinational mining companies such as Rio Tinto, Ivanhoe and Antofagasta actively awaited the result and although will be disappointed by the MPRP victory, they will hope the result will allow their deals to conclude. While the protests may add to the air of uncertainty, it is likely the simplest reason MPRP won the election is by promising a bribe of $1,300 in cash to each citizen once mining production starts.