Former PM nicknamed 'Fist' wins Mongolia presidential election

Mongolia’s new president Khurelsukh Ukhnaa is a macho character who has been photographed topless on horseback Putin-style, and became known as “Fist” after punching a parliamentarian.

The former prime minister won nearly 70 percent of the vote in the presidential election, preliminary results showed Thursday, with historically low voter turnout for the third election in two years.

The country went to the polls Wednesday to replace populist businessman Battulga Khaltmaa — a former world champion on the martial art of sambo who cannot run for a second presidential term under constitutional rules.

In the early hours of Thursday, Khurelsukh declared a decisive victory after getting nearly 70 percent of votes cast.

“From the bottom of my heart, I thank my fellow Mongolians,” he said.

Enkhbat Dangaasuren, his main rival, gathered only around a fifth of the votes and conceded defeat. An official announcement of the results is expected Thursday afternoon, according to Mongolia’s state news agency.

Khurelsukh has cultivated a macho persona, complete with photos of him posing shirtless with a hunting gun — similar to the famous images of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

He also got the nickname “Fist” after a video of him punching a member of parliament went viral in 2012.

Khurelsukh has since tried to clean up his image, and this is the first presidential win in 12 years for his Mongolian People’s Party — but voter turnout was just 59 percent out of around two million eligible voters.

He resigned as prime minister in January following protests and public outrage over the treatment of a coronavirus patient and her newborn baby.

Landlocked Mongolia, wedged between China and Russia, has struggled with political instability since it became a democracy. Its first constitution was passed in 1992 after decades of communist rule.

Challenger Enkhbat, an internet entrepreneur who largely appealed to the country’s youth, lost momentum when he tested positive for the coronavirus during the election campaign and was forced into quarantine.

Gerelt-Od, senior lecturer at the Mongolian National University of Education, told AFP that low turnout was a sign of apathy towards all parties.

Infighting among the rival parties and Covid-19 restrictions are also being blamed for the sluggish turnout.

Mongolia introduced some of the strictest early measures against the virus and achieved early success in keeping numbers low. 

But cases have soared in recent months, although there have been impressive high rates of vaccination.

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