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Democratic Opposition Claims Victory, First Ever Control of Parliament

June 30, 1996

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia (AP) _ Mongolia’s democratic opposition claimed victory Monday in parliamentary elections, saying voters had ousted the former communists and ushered in the country’s first democratic government.

As early, unofficial results came into the headquarters of the main democratic coalition, jubilant campaign workers and candidates grabbed one another in bear hugs and wiped their eyes.

``Felicitations!″ they shouted.

No official results were immediately available for Sunday’s elections. But the democratic coalition said it had won 43 of the 56 districts counted so far, giving it a majority in the 76-seat Great People’s Hural.

This Central Asian country has held multiparty balloting since 1990, when it shook off hard-line communism, but this was the most sweeping to date, with more significant participation than ever before by opposition forces.

``Now we’ll have a truly democratic government, and we’ll improve the lives of the people,″ said Gonchigdorj, leader of the two-party democratic coalition.

At the ruling party’s monolithic People’s Revolutionary Party headquarters, a few people sat dejectedly on the steps in the rose-marble foyer. A uniformed guard said all the candidates had left and no one was available to discuss the results.

Turnout appeared to have been remarkably high, as nomads on the grasslands, scarlet-robed monks, military men in uniform and urban dwellers in city finery voted. Election officials estimated that more than 90 percent of eligible voters turned out.

A steady stream of nomads in embroidered boots, ceremonial pointed hats and colorful wide-sashed robes cantered up on ponies with distinctive high-curved Mongolian saddles in Gatchoort, a settlement set in rolling green pasture by the Tul River about 12 miles northeast of Ulan Bator, the capital.

Under brilliantly sunny skies, rattletrap Russian jeeps and flatbed trucks brought more voters, nearly all in the national costume of caftan-like robes and high boots.

``It’s a great day for us, a great day for freedom,″ said Buyant, the local election chief in Gatchoort.

Because Mongolia is mainly rural _ two-fifths of its 2.2 million people are nomadic herders _ results were expected to trickle in slowly. Exit polling is not a concept in this low-tech country.

The preliminary count was based on return from individual precincts. Observers from all parties were present for the counting, which went on through the night. Coalition officials said they were confident the results would hold up in the official compilation.

In all, 304 candidates ran for the Grand People’s Hural, which the former communists now firmly control with 70 of the 76 seats. Before the voting, the opposition had said it would be happy to win one-third of the seats, just enough for veto power.

About two dozen international election observers were on hand for the vote, including former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who also came to Mongolia for voting in 1990 and 1992.

Election fairness has not been a major issue, although the opposition has accused the former communists of carving up districts in their favor and giving themselves prime exposure in state-run media.

In the Delgerhaan district 155 miles east of Ulan Bator, Baker watched herders duck inside a ``ger″ _ a circular, cloth-covered frame tent used by most nomads _ that served as a polling station.

``They accord a great deal of respect to their part in the democratic process,″ he said.

Baker said Mongolia’s prospects for reforms were bright, especially because its rural nature makes the switch to a market economy less traumatic than for industrialized formerly communist countries.

Even so, the transition here has been painful, triggering inflation, shortages and joblessness from which the country is only beginning to recover.

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