Mongolia's presidential election on Tuesday appeared to be headed towards the country's first ever run-off vote after none of the three candidates secured an absolute majority following a campaign fraught with corruption scandals.
Former martial arts star Khaltmaa Battulga of the Democratic Party (DP) has emerged as the victor of the first round of the election held on Monday, earning 517,478 votes, 38.1 percent of the total, Mongolian state television reported, city sources with the general election committee.
The three candidates were seeking to succeed Tsakhia Elbegdorj of the Democratic Party, who has served the maximum of two four-year terms.
The victor next month will become Mongolia's fifth president since 1990 following the end of communism. The government is run by the prime minister, but the president has powers to veto legislation and make judicial appointments.
The next president will inherit a $5.5 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout created to stabilize its economy and lessen its dependence on China, which purchases 80 percent of Mongolian exports.
Polling stations opened throughout Mongolia's cities, townships and prairies on Monday as almost two million residents were asked to choose a new president amid worries about corruption and the state of the resource-dominated economy.
All three presidential candidates have promised to pull the country out of its current crisis, restore the stagnant economy to its former "boom" status, and reassess ties with neighbours, including China.
Battulga's company, Genco, is one of Mongolia's largest, with businesses including hotels, media, banking, alcohol, horsemeat and a Genghis Khan-themed complex.
The top two candidates from the Monday election will now face off in a second round expected to be held within two weeks.
It was once Asia's fastest growing economies, but in recent years it has struggled with mounting debt after foreign investment and commodity export earnings collapsed. It now has $23 billion in debt, more than double the size of its economy. "Only I am keen to get good benefits to my people".
"For me, the most important things are solidarity and unity, which are more important than party divisions", said Lantu Erdenechimeg, a 50-year old government official, adding that he had voted for Enkhbold because of his unity pledge.
"I made my choice based on my beliefs and hopes", said Dangaa, who favored Enkhbold.
MPP lawmakers also accused Battulga of misappropriating mining contracts and called on him to answer questions about online allegations that he had large overseas holdings. Unemployment is roughly 9 percent, with about one in five Mongolians living in poverty.
"I don't like corruption and favoritism, which is prevalent everywhere in all levels of Mongolian government". Enkhbold's party pledges to continue the IMF's program, including higher taxes and spending cuts, while Ganbaatar has criticized the International Monetary Fund. "I voted against these corrupt officials", said Enkhmaa, a 28-year-old entrepreneur who gave only her first name.