Communists defeated most opposition candidates in the initial round of voting in Mongolia's first multi-party elections, according to results released Tuesday.
The preliminary vote, held Sunday, already ensures that the Communist Party, officially known as the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, will continue to control the 430-seat People's Great Hural, the country's supreme parliamentary body.
However, leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties called the balloting a major step toward democracy in the world's second-oldest Communist state, after the Soviet Union. Out of 338 opposition candidates who contested the primaries in 238 constituencies, near-final results showed 101 winning places in next Sunday's runoff elections.
The preliminary vote was to reduce the number of candidates to no more than two in each district. In 192 constituencies, only one or two candidates registered. Many rural districts had no opposition candidates.
"For the first attempt, it's good," said Sanjaasuren Zorig, head of the Mongolian Democratic Assn., the country's most prominent opposition group. He described the elections as "quite fair."
Communist Party General Secretary Gombojavyn Ochirbat told reporters in Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital, that the smoothness of the preliminary balloting shows that "Mongolian society is standing firmly on the path of restructuring."
Ochirbat also reiterated a ruling-party pledge that some opposition leaders will be offered Cabinet positions.
The Communists have held power in Mongolia since 1921, and opposition parties were legalized only a few months ago.
Official figures showed that 92% of those eligible cast ballots. In some rural districts of this nation of 2 million, voters rode for miles on horseback to reach balloting stations.
"This is our first election," Mongolian Prime Minister Sharavyn Gunjaador said at a news conference Tuesday. "There are some shortcomings and bumps, but it's been comparatively fair and free."
Opposition leaders said Tuesday they now expect to win about 10% of the seats in the People's Great Hural, which elects the nation's president.
Next Sunday's balloting will include a party-preference vote that will influence the distribution of seats in the 53-member Small Hural, the regularly functioning legislature. Opposition leaders have expressed hope of having greater influence in this body, which is responsible for drafting laws.
Most of the 799 remaining candidates for the 430 Great Hural seats are intellectuals or bureaucrats, according to Khurmitbek, the vice president of the National Election Commission who, like many Mongolians, routinely uses only one name. In the past, when the Great Hural functioned as a rubber-stamp legislature, its membership was composed largely of workers and herders.