Mongolian Presidential Candidate Hospitalized With COVID as Nation Votes

Dangaasurengiin Enkhbat, a presidential candidate in Mongolia, is hospitalized with COVID-19 after testing positive for the virus three days before the vote. A former tech CEO, Enkhbat is running as a third-party candidate for the National Labor Party.

Mongolia's population of 3 million is voting on Wednesday to elect its sixth president since becoming a democratic state in 1992.

Former Mongolian Prime Minister Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh is pursuing the presidency with the Mongolian People's Party (MPP), which carries a hefty majority in parliament and control over the Cabinet. Khurelsukh's main contender, Sodnomzunduin Erdene of the Democratic Party, said that a victory by the MPP candidate could put Mongolia at risk of dictatorship since his armed forces background might lead to heightened military involvement in public affairs.

The current president, Battulga Khaltmaa from the Democratic Party, cannot run for a second term in office per constitutional restrictions.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Mongolia Election
Residents arrive to cast their votes in the presidential election at the Bayanzurkh district in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on June 9, 2021. Saruul Enkhbold/AP Photo

The presidency is a largely ceremonial position, although it does include powers over the military and the right to veto legislation in some cases. Power is mainly vested in the parliament, the Cabinet and the office of the prime minister.

A total of 2,151,329 voters are registered, according to the General Election Commission. Polls close at 10 p.m. and it's not clear when a winner will be announced.

Voters are required to observe social distancing, and restrictions on public gatherings have severely curtailed campaign events, prompting candidates to shift much of their outreach to voters online. All in-person campaigning has been suspended since Sunday after new local infections hit a record last week of more than 1,000 per day.

Mongolia's already ailing economy has been thrown into crisis due to the pandemic, with 69,022 cases and 324 deaths reported. That has forced the temporary closure of markets and other enterprises in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, to which many in the traditionally herding population have moved in recent years.

Corruption and pandemic-related disruptions in demand for Mongolia's chief exports such as coal and copper are also dragging on the economy.

"I really hope that the new president I chose today will put our economy back on its feet. Due to the pandemic, the Mongolian economy is really struggling, almost falling on its knees," voter Undarmaa Baasanjav said.

Another voter, Enkhbold Munkhjargal, said unemployment was the country's most urgent problem.

"I really hope that the new president I chose today will improve Mongolia's reputation abroad and bring in more foreign investment," Munkhjargal said.

Mongolia has tried to maintain its political and economic independence from both Soviet-era patron Moscow—which supplies virtually all of its energy needs—and rising regional power China, which buys more than 90% of Mongolia's mining exports.

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Mongolia's President Battulga Khaltmaa
Mongolian President Battulga Khaltmaa speaks to the media after voting in the citizens representative election, held across all 21 provinces to select city and district council representatives, at a polling site in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, on October 15, 2020. Khaltmaa will soon be replaced by a new president as the election was held Wednesday. Byambasuren Byamba-Ochir/AFP via Getty Images