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Elbegdorj Re-elected as Mongolia's President

Mongolia's President Tsakhia Elbegdorj (R) celebrates his re-election with members of his cabinet at Sukhbaatar square in downtown Ulan Bator, June 27, 2013.
Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia has won a second term, in an election dominated by a debate over the country's vast mining wealth.

Preliminary results Thursday show President Elbegdorj took 50.2 percent of the previous day's vote, narrowly clearing the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off.

His main challenger, opposition lawmaker and former pro-wrestler Baterdene Badmaanyambuu, received nearly 42 percent. The country's first female presidential candidate, Health Minister Natsag Udval, came in a distant third place.

Elbegdorj is a Harvard-educated former journalist who campaigned on promises of fighting corruption and continuing his policy of using foreign cash to power Mongolia's rapidly growing economy.

The 50-year-old, who previously served two terms as prime minister, thanked his supporters Thursday at a rally in the capital, Ulan Bator.

"I will do my best to uphold our country's reputation internationally. I will also do my best to take suggestions and requests from our citizens for a brighter future, and to realize their hopes and dreams," he said.

Fifty-seven percent of Mongolia's eligible voters participated in the election, a figure well short of the turnout in the 2009 presidential election. Nigel Finch, a Mongolia analyst at the University of Sydney, tells VOA this could be due to voter apathy over government corruption, which Elbegdorj has promised to address.

"There's a clear sentiment in Mongolia that the government is corrupt and that irrespective of voter turnout, those in power will continue to be self-serving and orchestrate the results that they need," he said.

There were no reports of widespread irregularities in the election, unlike in past votes. Accusations of fraud dogged the 2008 parliamentary elections, which resulted in deadly riots.

The election was closely watched by foreign mining giants who have moved into the resource-rich country to exploit its still largely untapped reserves of gold, copper and iron.

While President Elbegdorj has advocated a free market economy, he has also moved toward heavier regulation of foreign investments and passed laws aimed at extracting more profits from foreign mining operations.

The foreign investment as a result of the mining boom has helped make Mongolia one of the world's fastest growing economies. Its GDP grew 17 percent in 2011 and 12 percent last year.

But many Mongolians complain they have not benefited from the newfound wealth, with a third of the country's 2.8 million people living below the poverty line. There are also concerns about rising inflation and environmental damage to rural areas as a result of the mining boom.

The resource-rich country is a former Soviet client state that ended seven decades of communist rule in 1990. A strong U.S. ally, Mongolia held its first elections in 1992.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.