Communists Win Polls in Mongolia

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia -- Taking revenge for their historic parliamentary election defeat at the hands of a democratic coalition last summer, Mongolia's Communist Party scored a stunning comeback victory in nationwide municipal elections Sunday.

As of late Monday evening, when the Mongolian Central Election Commission released preliminary poll results, Communist Party candidates for local legislatures held commanding leads in nine districts in the capital, Ulan Bator, and in 13 of the country's 21 provinces.

Like the Russian Communist party, which helped bring it into existence in 1921, Mongolia's communists were the dominant force in their country's political life for more than 70 years.

Although democratic and economic reform mirrored Russia's and began in 1991, it was not until this past June, when democrats routed them in a parliamentary vote, that the Communist Party formally ceded power.

Spokesmen for the ruling "DemUnion" coalition of democratic parties blamed the defeat on a "catastrophically" low turnout and on widespread voter dissatisfaction with the government's recent liberalization of energy prices.

"We made some difficult decisions about freeing up the economy which our opponents skillfully exploited," said DemUnion General Secretary Gansukkh Ganbold.

Prices in Mongolia for gasoline, rent, household heating and electricity more than doubled in early September when the Democratic government freed energy prices. Even costs for public transportation, a crucial part of day-to-day life in a country where livestock still outnumber cars even in the big cities, doubled as a result of the move.

Communist leader Nambaryn Enhbayar said at a Monday press conference that the vote proved his party would remain a viable political force for the foreseeable future.

"The vote shows that, when it comes down to which party Mongolians think is going to best take care of their interests, the [Communist Party] still commands the support of the majority of the population," he said.

According to Mongolian Election Commission Chairman Sayar Lhagvasuren, the voter turnout of 64.2 percent was the lowest in Mongolian history.

Although the vote had no meaning on a federal level, the victory by the communists at the municipal level may hinder the implementation of broad economic reforms that are being enacted on a national level.