ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (AP) — Voters in Mongolia are electing a new parliament on Friday in their landlocked democracy that is squeezed between China and Russia, two much larger authoritarian states.

At stake are 126 seats in an expanded parliament, 50 more than in the previous election in 2020. That contest was won by the Mongolian People’s Party in a landslide. The ruling party still appears to hold the upper hand, but other parties may be able to capitalize on voter discontent to eat into its majority.

There are 2,198 polling stations spread out across the sparsely populated country, which is large geographically but has a population of only 3.4 million people. The voting stations close at 10 p.m. (1400 GMT) with preliminary results expected early Saturday morning.

Mongolia became a democracy in 1990, ending more than six decades of one-party communist rule under the same People’s Party that is in power today. The ruling party has transformed into a center-left party in the democratic era.

The main opposition has been the Democratic Party, a center-right party, though the HUN Party has emerged in this election as a potential third force.

Many voters have come to view the parliament as “thieves” bent on enriching themselves and their business friends though the public treasury. Corruption scandals have eroded confidence in the government and political parties.

Besides corruption, major issues for voters include unemployment and inflation in an economy rocked first by the Covid-19 pandemic and then the fallout from the war in Ukraine. The country’s livestock herders were also hit by a “dzud” this year, a combination of severe weather and drought, that killed 7.1 million animals.

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