By Ganbat Namjilsangarav
The Associated Press
ULAN BATOR, Mongolia (AP) — Mongolian Prime Minister Sanjaagiin Bayar said on Monday, Oct. 26, that he wanted to resign for health reasons, bringing new political uncertainty to his impoverished but resource-rich nation.
Bayar’s request to step down must be approved by the Asian nation’s parliament speaker, said Khurelsukh Ukhaa of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party. The MPRP leadership plans to meet on Wednesday to discuss how to respond.
Bayar has previously sought treatment overseas for liver problems due to a hepatitis C infection and was hospitalized again last week in the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator.
The MPRP, which, as communists, ran Mongolia until 1990, holds 46 seats in the 76-seat parliament, with another 27 held by the Democratic Party of Mongolia.
Bayar’s announcement comes just weeks after he saw through the signing of a long-awaited deal between Mongolia and partners Rio Tinto and Ivanhoe Mines to develop a $4 billion gold and copper mine after a heated national debate over how to exploit the country’s mineral wealth.
The agreement on the Oyu Tolgoi mine in the Gobi desert was renegotiated repeatedly after opponents complained that it shortchanged Mongolia, which lies wedged between Russia and China, and has long been wary of foreign domination. Parliament had to repeal a windfall profits tax in August before London-based Rio and Canada’s Ivanhoe would agree to go ahead.
The economy of this vast, sparsely populated nation of 2.7 million people, has been walloped by the plunging value of copper, its main export, and the government is currently negotiating with a number of potential overseas partners for development of the huge Tavan Tolgoi coking coal deposit. A decision on the project is expected by the end of the year.
The politics of the U.S. ally have been stable since the deaths of five people in violence that followed allegations of voting fraud in parliamentary elections last year.
Elbegdorj Tsakhia of the opposition Mongolian Democratic Party won a tight race for president in May, ensuring that the government operates as a virtual coalition. Mongolia’s president oversees the armed forces and security council and has the power to veto parliamentary decisions.
The prime minister has responsibility for the economy and the day-to-day operations of the government. ♦