TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -From its sprawling steppes to its capital and even in yurts serving as polling stations, people began to vote in a landlocked country sandwiched between Russia and China that was once viewed as an oasis of democracy full of economic promise.
Nomadic herders filed into a yurt in the city of Erdene Sum, 100 kilometers east of the capital, Ulan Bator, to cast their ballots, wearing the traditional deel coat, fedoras, and boots.
The resource-rich nation of just three million has struggled in recent years with mounting debt and low voter turnout.
The next president will inherit a $5.5-billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout designed to stabilize its economy and lessen its dependence on China, which purchases 80 percent of Mongolian exports.
But voters have heard little from the three candidates about unemployment and jobs — their top concerns in opinion polls — as campaigns have instead focused on their opponents' allegedly shady pasts.
Among the accusations are a 60-billion tugrik ($25-million) scheme to sell government posts, hefty offshore accounts, and a clandestine donation from a member of a South Korean church — all of which the candidates have denied.
The campaign was also marked by moments of anti-Chinese sentiment, with candidate Mieygombo Enkhbold of the parliament-ruling Mongolian People's Party (MPP) publishing his family tree to rebuff claims that he had Chinese blood.
"(The election) is truly testing the nerves of voters," Gerel Orgil, a Mongolian public opinion analyst, told AFP. "It's been like watching a bullfight."