Polls have closed in Mongolia for the country's seventh parliamentary election.
Thursday's election pitted the 90-year-old Mongolian People's Party (MPP) against the Mongolian Democratic Party (MDP), formed when the country broke away from the Soviet Union in 1990, as well as 11 other parties.
The northeast Asian country had the world's fastest-growing economy last year, but a third of its people live below the poverty line.
Both main political parties promise to ensure that the mining boom benefits more Mongolians.
Competition for the 76 seats in the legislature - the State Great Khural - is fierce. Some analysts expect neither of the main parties to gain a majority, forcing a coalition either with each other, as happened in 2008, or with another party.
A polling station in Sergelen county centre, in Tuv Province, was set up in the local primary school, and for the first time used electronic voting machines that promise to speed up the counting process and prevent accusations of inaccuracy which contributed to violence following elections in 2008.
Mongolian herder Suren Tsevelmaa on Thursday started her day as any other, milking a cow from her small herd to make butter and cheese, with her young grandson playing nearby.
But then the 65-year-old put on her best traditional brocade gown, and set off across the grassland to the local
county seat to cast her vote.
It was a common sight across the vast country of just three million people, many of them still nomadic herders.
Like many herders who rely on the country's vast steppe for survival, Tsevelmaa's vote was strongly swayed by pledges to control the country's booming mining sector.
"I think they shouldn't let there be so much mining. I hear a lot about digging all over the grasslands. I want them to keep this country safe and protect the natural environment," she said.
The latest polls suggest the MDP has sneaked ahead of the centre-left MPP, but public frustration has increased the popularity of third party the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP), lead by former President Nambar Enkhbayar, who was arrested in April on corruption charges.
Social equality, corruption and how to share the profits from mining are top priority for many voters.
Mongolia's economy grew 17.3 per cent in 2011, outpacing all in Asia, thanks mainly to foreign investment in huge mining projects.
But many feel that the majority of Mongolians are not benefitting enough, while some think foreign firms have been given too much control over the exploitation of huge new reserves, mainly serving energy-hungry neighbour China.
"We get a lot of information on the internet about Mongolian mineral resources being sold to foreigners, particularly to the Chinese, and young Mongolians are getting very angry about it," Enkhtuvshin Uranbileg, a 20-year-old student, said.
"I want this problem to be solved in a way that benefits Mongolians."
Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold, of the MPP, also turned out at his local polling station, a converted basketball court, in a well-to-do area of the capital, Ulan Bator.
Results are expected in the early hours of Friday morning.
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|William A. Cook|