Mongolia's former communists met yesterday to discuss who should become the next prime minister after the central Asian country was thrown into disarray with the ouster of reform-minded Tsakhia Elbegdorj.
About 250 members of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) gathered in central Ulan Bator to choose a candidate to lead the impoverished, landlocked nation, a party official said.
"They will discuss whom to nominate as the next prime minister," the official said, a leading member of the party's youth organization. He said the talks began shortly before 4pm.
The most likely choice was MPRP chairman Miyegombo Enkhbold, a former mayor of the capital, where nearly half the country's 2.5 million people live, several observers said.
"He's a good man. He's got good organizational skills and very important experience," said MPRP member Kulalsuk as he arrived for the meeting at party headquarters.
Mongolia's political system was thrown into upheaval after lengthy parliamentary debates late on Friday culminated in a vote approving the resignation of 10 Cabinet members, all from the MPRP.
With just eight cabinet members remaining, this effectively sealed the ouster of Elbegdorj, whose Democratic Party advocates liberal market reform in Mongolia.
The political constellation was such that a new government was all but certain to be formed by the MPRP with the support of smaller parties.
"This is the right time to start in our own direction," said Sansar Jiimen, a 30-year-old software engineer and a member of the MPRP's youth organization.
"We will pay more attention to social issues and look after poor people," he said.
The decision to topple the government "has immediately created a dangerous situation in our country," Elbegdorj said early yesterday, just moments after the parliamentary vote had reduced him to acting prime minister.
"I think this is short-sighted, and a wrong move by the Mongolian Communists," said Elbegdorj, a Harvard graduate.
The MPRP and the Democrats have co-ruled since 2004, when they were forced into an uneasy coalition after an election that divided the parliamentary seats almost evenly between the two.
In an agreement between the sides, Elbegdorj was handed the prime minister's office in exchange for giving the MPRP 10 of the 18 cabinet seats.
Elbegdorj was only to have held the premiership until this autumn, at which time it would have been taken over by the MPRP, according to observers.
"Everyone asks the question why they couldn't wait for these few months," Elbegdorj said. "My theory is that they felt threatened by my plans to pursue action for combating corruption."
Sanjaasuren Oyun, the leader of the Civil Will Party, said it was a wrong move to oust the government.
"Although the coalition couldn't do the reforms very fast, they had an ambitious reform-minded platform," she said.
"Slowly, they were moving forward with tax reform, with election reform," she added.
Mongolia, most famous for its past under fearless warlord Genghis Khan, has been praised as one of the few central Asian states to have enjoyed a relatively stable democracy following the fall of the Soviet Union.
It has also been an ally of the US, and sent a small but symbolically significant military deployment to help the US-led forces in Iraq.
The MPRP enjoyed nearly 70 years of single-party rule when Mongolia was a Soviet satellite, and has maintained significant clout since democracy was introduced in the early 1990s.
It won 72 of the 76 parliamentary seats in 2000 but was forced into the latest coalition after an electoral backlash to its dominance at the 2004 polls.
With support for Elbegdorj's Democratic Party falling to just 26 seats following the break up of its own "Democratic Coalition" last year, the MPRP decided to take full control.
"The democrats believe the 2004 vote was rigged and think they should have won the election," said a foreign observer in Ulan Bator. "So now they think they've lost twice, and they're angry."
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