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Mongols elect their parliament

Mongols will elect the 76 members of the Great Hural, the Mongolian Parliament. The two main parties vying for seats are the Democrats and the former communist party, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party.

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Mongolian voters dressed in traditional silk cloaks tied with colourful sashes streamed into polling stations Sunday as the nation began crucial parliamentary elections.

A total of 356 candidates, including 28 incumbent members of parliament, are fighting for 76 seats in the Great Hural.

Early risers had queued ahead of the polls opening and watched as election officials locked ballot boxes and provided voting instructions.

Many came dressed in silk cloaks, known as deels, which are reserved for special occasions and holidays.

Inside a Sukhbaatar district polling station -- usually used as a basketball court -- elders with war medals pinned to their chests were invited to cast the first ballots of the day.

Despite strong midday thunderstorms that caused flooding in parts of the capital, polling stations were reporting strong turnouts.

In the early afternoon the General Election Committee was reporting 50 percent voter turnout, with several hours to go before polling stations closed.

The elections are widely viewed as a political re-shuffle necessary to kick-start mining legislation and business contracts left over by the outgoing parliament.

The nascent mining industry has given the government a budget surplus for the past three years and greater riches are expected from a soon-to-be tapped 38-billion-dollar copper deposit in the Gobi Desert.

The two major parties, the Democrats and the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), have each promised large payouts to the general public if they win the election.

In the final days of campaigning the two remained close in tracking polls, but the non-profit Sant Maral Foundation gave a slight advantage to the MPRP.

"The Democrats made a promise to give one million tugrik (860 dollars) to every Mongolian, but they were trumped by the MPRP who offered 1.5 million tugrik," said Sant Maral director Luvsandendeviin Sumati.

"After that the Democrats had nothing else to offer."

In 2004, Mongolia’s last general election, the two parties nearly split the vote and were forced into a fragile coalition that produced three different prime ministers.

The instability held up economic reforms and shook investor confidence but the economy still grew by an impressive 9.9 percent in 2007.

However the electorate is hungry for new leadership and many voters have indicated they may switch to smaller parties and independents.

"I didn’t vote for the Democrats or the MPRP," said 74-year-old Namkhai Sanjid as she left a polling station in Sukhbaatar.

"They have been in power for many years but didn’t do enough for the people. So I chose young candidates."

Some 1,800 polling stations located in schools, libraries, gymnasiums and other public buildings will accommodate Mongolia’s 1.5 million eligible voters.

At a polling station in Yarmag, a poor neighbourhood of Ulan Bator, a group of 18-year-old women voting for the first time said they support the Democrats.

"The Democrats are a young party. They have fresh ideas and they are creative. They can do something good for the country. The MPRP has been in power before but nothing has changed," said Olzii Enkhzaya.

In remote areas, nomadic herders are casting ballots at temporary voting yurts scattered across the country’s vast steppes and deserts.

Herders may have to travel up to 30 or 40 kilometres (18 to 24 miles) to cast their ballots while election workers on motorbikes will take "mobile ballot boxes" to people too old or sick to travel.

Polling stations will close at 10:00 pm (1400 GMT). Results will trickle in on Monday morning but the new voting process is widely expected to cause delays in counting.

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