Mongolians have voted in the country's presidential election, with surveys suggesting incumbent Tsakhia Elbegdorj will win a second term. All three candidates are promising fairer wealth distribution from a mining boom.
Voters in Mongolia went to the polls on Wednesday with election campaigning dominated by a national debate over mineral rights.
The polls closed at 10:00 p.m. (1400 GMT) and although results could arrive overnight, an official announcement is expected later this week.
Recent polls indicate that President Elbegdorj will retain the presidency, campaigning on a policy of using foreign cash to drive development. Since he was elected for a first term in 2009, Elbegdorj has also led a drive against corruption.
Elbegdorj's main challenger is likely to be Mongolian People's Party (MPP) candidate Baterdene Badmaanyambuu, a former champion wrestler. Baterdene - who is particularly popular among rural voters - has portrayed himself as being committed to upholding national unity and has helped to draw up a new environmental protection law amid concern about the ravages of the recent mining boom.
The president has little executive power, but does enjoy important powers of veto and appointment. Although a ceremonial head of state, the president also gives advice to the prime minister on matters of national security and foreign policy and would be expected to have some influence regarding mineral rights and foreign investors.
Foreign companies have poured into Mongolia in recent years, keen to exploit the country's extensive and largely untapped coal, copper and gold reserves. Elbegdorj's opponents are pressing for all mineral rights to be kept in Mongolian hands.
The largest mining project is the Oyu Tolgoi mine, a joint venture between the Anglo-Australian enterprise Rio Tinto and Canada's Turquoise Hill Resources. The mine is expected to produce some 450,000 metric tons of copper concentrate each year, which would generate as much as one-third of government revenue by 2019. The first shipments from the mine were temporarily blocked.
The MPP ruled Mongolia from 1921 until 1996, having been unopposed until 1990 and has spent much of the last decade in power as part of a coalition with the Democratic Party in Mongolia's parliament, the Great Hural.
First female candidate
Meanwhile, current Health Minister Udval Natsag is the first woman to contest the presidency since the office was established in 1992, running on behalf of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party. Ahead of the election, Udval was predicted as likely to take some 9 percent of the poll.
All of the candidates have said they want to ensure that future revenue generated by natural resources is fairly distributed, with many mining operations yet to start exports.
rc/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)