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Mongolia Elections Unexpectedly Close Results - 2004-06-28

Mongolia's political world has been taken by surprise after an alliance of opposition parties came from behind in Sunday's elections to force a dead heat with the ruling former Communists. The results of the voting are still to close to call, and both sides are accusing each other of election fraud.

What was supposed to be an assured victory for the former Communists of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, or MPRP, has turned into a very close race.

Going into Sunday's elections, the MPRP held all but four of the country's 76 parliamentary seats. Even many members of the opposition Motherland-Democratic Coalition expected the ruling party to keep a majority.

But in a surprise, citizens of this vast but sparsely populated nation, which once ruled most of Asia, have split their votes so evenly that the identity of the next Mongolian government still remains a mystery.

Several seats remain too close to call, and officials from both sides are raising allegations of fraud, including vote-buying and moving supporters to closely contested districts.

The final outcome of the election could be disputed for days or even weeks to come.

Mongolia suffers from endemic poverty, with an average income of less than $500 a year, and both sides in the election have presented similar platforms to increase jobs by stimulating the private sector and offering subsidies for the country's youth.

Opposition officials said Monday that in the event of a hung parliament, they would consider forming a grand coalition with the M.P.R.P.

But the opposition's campaign manager, former finance minister Puntsagiin Tsagaan, told VOA before the vote, his coalition could turn to street protests if it believed the ruling party was trying to steal a victory. "If they steal too rudely or too bluntly, then the political events may develop in a completely wrong way," he says.

The MPRP says it is concerned about possible election fraud by the opposition but will not comment further until the country's election commission comes out with preliminary results.