Mongolians head to the polls Thursday to elect a new parliament with both major parties promising frustrated voters that they can deliver a better share of a spectacular but divisive mining boom.
Mongolia's economy has exploded in recent years as foreign investors such as mining giant Rio Tinto have moved in to exploit the landlocked nation's vast and largely untapped reserves of coal, copper and gold.
But although foreign investment has quadrupled to nearly $5 billion, the least well-off among Mongolia's 2.8 million people often complain that they are reaping few benefits of the boom.
"I want to choose a party who has a clear idea on the coexistence of mining and the wider economy. Not a party that will just focus on the mining industry," said Amitan Ulam-Undrakh, a herdsman from the south of the country.
"I don't think any of the ruling political parties have shown the ability to handle the the big miners."
The vast wealth pouring into Mongolia has also led to accusations of large-scale political graft -- levelled against figures including former president Nambar Enkhbayar, who was charged with corruption this year.
However the ruling Mongolian People's Party (MPP) and the main opposition Democratic Party, which have shared power in recent years, both insist they can ensure a fairer distribution of wealth across the vast nation.
The Democratic Party, which is leading the MPP according to polls, said this week it would create a fund to distribute mining profits evenly throughout society, including via pensions.
The MPP -- Mongolia's oldest party -- has made similar promises although also without giving much detail.
"We will have a national sovereign wealth fund created that would benefit the people equitably," an MPP spokeswoman said this week during a pre-election period when politicians are not allowed to campaign.
"We will also support seriously education and health systems, which would contribute to the quality of life of the ordinary people."
The MPP's chances appear to have been damaged by its acrimonious split with Enkhbayar, who broke away from the MPP last year to form his own party.
Enkhbayar was barred from standing for a seat in parliament amid the fall-out of the corruption scandal. He denies any wrongdoing.
Despite the fact he cannot personally stand, however, opinion polls suggest his Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party will succeed in snatching a damaging number of votes from the MPP.
Mongolia, wedged between China and Russia, peacefully ended seven decades of communist rule in 1990, and held its first elections in 1992.
Since then, its transition to a democratic capitalist state has been largely peaceful, although accusations of vote-rigging in the 2008 parliamentary elections resulted in riots that left at least four dead.
A range of new measures have been introduced in this year's election to boost transparency, including the use of an electronic voting system.
The automated system is expected to see the winner of the election announced very quickly, potentially within hours of the polls closing.
The president, currently from the Democratic Party, is the head of state in Mongolia and can initiate policy and veto policies proposed by parliament.
However parliament can force through policies without the president's approval if it has a two-thirds majority.© ANP/AFP