ULAN BATOR - Mongolia's opposition Democratic Party (DP) candidate Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj won the presidential election, authorities said on Monday, in an outcome analysts said could complicate a pivotal mining deal.
With virtually all polling stations reporting, Elbegdorj took more than 51 percent of the vote, while incumbent Nambariin Enkhbayar of the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) received just over 47 percent, the General Election Committee said.
Enkhbayar's quick admission of defeat, before official results were in, helped the young Central Asian democracy avoid a repeat of the deadly violence that followed allegations of fraud during tightly fought parliamentary elections last summer.
Instead, thousands celebrated on the main square in the capital Ulan Bator.
The Mongolian people have made a choice for their rights and freedoms. Mongolians have made a choice for the material wealth that rightly belongs to them, Elbegdorj told his supporters, with a huge statue of Genghis Khan, who ruled an empire that extended as far west as Hungary, serving as his backdrop.
Elbegdorj won the largely ceremonial post on promises of rooting out corruption and obtaining a greater share for individuals of the country's mineral wealth.
Analysts say policy-making related to foreign involvement in the economy could become more unpredictable. Specifically, Elbegdorj's populist leanings could lead to a tougher stance in dealings with foreign investors in the mining sector.
The most immediate question is whether a draft investment agreement on the $3 billion Oyu Tolgoi project, set to be developed by Canadian-based Ivanhoe Mines and Australia's Rio Tinto, will be held up further after years of negotiations.
The government hopes to use the Oyu Tolgoi deal as a template for future mining projects, meaning whatever happens with it will have widespread implications.
If it's all finalized, and it's completely confirmed that he's the decisive winner, then I think it does not bode too well for the proceedings over Oyu Tolgoi, said Damien Ma with political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
With Elbegdorj in the presidency, the negotiations could potentially be delayed further, and Mongolia could also push harder on some of its positions in the talks, Ma said.
Failure to seal the deal quickly could hamper Mongolia's ambitions of becoming a mining powerhouse and using its vast deposits of copper, gold, uranium, lead, zinc, and coal to help pull its nearly 3 million people out of poverty.
That poverty itself is what prompted many to vote for Elbegdorj.
Many saw his ticket as a way out of the current economic difficulties, which have been caused in large part by a sharp drop in the price of the landlocked country's main export, copper.
I hope that the new president will improve the people's lives in this hard economic situation and bring us out of the financial slump. The people are going through a tough time, said Tsedeviin Tsetsegmaa, 42, a food safety inspector.