ULAN BATOR - President Tsakhia Elbegdorj invoked Mongolia’s warrior hero Genghis Khan Thursday as he celebrated winning a second term in elections defined by a debate over inequality in a nation enjoying a mining bonanza.

Thousands of supporters of the former journalist, who helped throw off decades of communist rule, sang democratic songs in the capital’s Soviet-style square as he delivered a victory speech.

“Thank you great Genghis. Today 2.9 million Genghises are waking up on the Mongolian steppes”, Elbegdorj said, speaking in front of a statue of the empire-building figure who unified the nation’s tribes 800 years ago.

The reference to Genghis Kahn, whose empire reached into Europe at its height, demonstrates the increasing dominance over the nation’s political scene established by the Harvard-educated Elbegdorj, who has also served two terms as premier.

“The president’s address had some nationalistic references in it, for example in his mention of Genghis Khan,” said Chutemsuren Tamir, researcher in social sciences at Mongolian National University.

“I’ve noticed that our presidents become more nationalistic when elected for second term.”

The Democratic Party candidate claimed victory after preliminary results Thursday showed he had defeated his two opponents — a wrestling champion and the country’s first woman presidential contender — with 50.23 percent of the vote.

A posting on Elbegdorj’s Facebook page said he had been congratulated by the two other candidates.

“I can carry the name of Mongolia high in the international arena. I will work to realise the dream of the Mongolian people,” 50-year-old Elbegdorj said. “I will work hard for the more intensive development of Mongolia.”

The exploitation of the nation’s vast coal, copper and gold reserves has helped transform an economy once characterised by nomadic lifestyles not far removed from the that of Genghis Khan and his followers.

But a widening wealth gap in the cities and environmental damage in rural areas have dominated the political debate, while recent falls in commodity prices and slowing demand in the key market of China sparked uncertainty ahead of the election.

At the victory rally, Elbegdorj praised his opponents in the presidential campaign, including champion wrestler Badmaanyambuu Bat-Erdene, the Mongolian People’s Party’s candidate who won 41.97 percent of the vote.

The third candidate, Natsag Udval from the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party who was the first woman to contest the presidency, secured just 6.5 percent support.

Both of Elbegdorj’s challengers wanted to amend the contract for the huge $6.2 million Oyu Tolgoi mine which is run in partnership between foreign companies and the Mongolian government and has become a focus of concerns over Mongolia’s breakneck development.

Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto and Canada’s Turquoise Hill Resources have jointly led construction of the mine, which is expected to produce 450,000 tonnes of copper concentrate a year and generate up to one-third of government revenue by 2019.

The first shipments from the mine were blocked by the government days before the polls and still remain grounded, according to Rio Tinto.

A previous delay earlier this month followed a government demand that Rio Tinto keep all export revenue in Mongolia.

Elbegdorj has earned a reputation as a pugnacious political fighter, an image he has tried to enhance by investigating graft in the national airline as well as attempting to confront foreign investors.

The president played a leading role when Mongolia threw off 70 years of communist rule in 1990 in a peaceful transition that saw mass rallies staged at Sukhbaatar Square.

Under a bright blue sky typical of summer months in Ulan Bator — before a huge cloak of smog covers the city in winter — about 6,000 people congregated in the square Thursday, waving blue, red and yellow national flags.

The square is overlooked by the Government Palace to the north — a huge white, concrete structure that provides a throwback to Mongolia’s past as a Soviet satellite state — and a newly-erected glass and steel skyscraper to the east, a symbol of Mongolia’s new found wealth with its Louis Vuitton store and plush boutiques.

Democratic Party supporters in the square said they were pleased their candidate had won, but were disappointed he did not get more votes.

“I was quite disappointed at the very close margin of his victory,” said 66-year-old teacher Sharva Dorjpagma. “I hoped he’ll get 70 percent of popular vote, but 50.23 percent is quite humble. The voter turnout was low.” Election turnout in 2009 was 73 percent, but only 64 percent this year.

“Elbegdorj’s victory is the best way forward for the country’s development,” 50-year-old researcher Dorj Ochir told AFP. “We have made a good choice for the future of our country and our people.”