North Koreans ‘vote’ en masse

NO CHOICE?:The elections for positions in the Supreme People’s Assembly feature a single candidate per region and serve more as a means to count the population

AFP, SEOUL

Mon, Mar 10, 2014 - Page 4

North Koreans voted yesterday in a pre-determined election for a rubber-stamp parliament — an exercise that doubles as a national head count and may offer clues to power shifts in Pyongyang.

The vote to elect representatives for the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) was taking place as scheduled, the state-run KCNA news agency said, adding that voter turnout was 91 percent as of 2pm.

Those who are ill or infirm and cannot travel to polling stations are casting votes at special “mobile ballot boxes,” it added.

Apart from the physical casting of votes, there is nothing democratic about the ballot. The results are a foregone conclusion, with only one approved candidate standing for each of the 687 districts.

State newspapers yesterday said it was the duty of “every single person” to vote in the poll.

The Rodong Sinmun — mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party — said the election would promote North Korea as a “dignified, prosperous and strong socialist powerhouse.”

State-run media have in recent weeks stepped up propaganda to promote the election, with a number of poems produced to celebrate voting under titles including The Billows of Emotion and Happiness and We go to Polling Station.

It was the first election to the SPA under the leadership of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who took over the reins of power after the death of his father, former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, in December 2011.

And like his father before him, Kim Jong-un stood as a candidate — in constituency number 111, Mount Paektu.

Koreans have traditionally attributed divine status to Mount Paektu and, according to the North’s official propaganda, Kim Jong-Il was born on its slopes.

Elections are normally held every five years to the SPA, which only meets once or twice a year, mostly for a day-long session, to rubber-stamp budgets or other decisions made by the Workers’ Party.

The previous session, in April last year, adopted a special ordinance formalizing the country’s position as a nuclear weapons state — a status that South Korea and the US have vowed not to recognize.

The real interest for outside observers is the final list of candidates or winners — both lists being identical. Many top North Korean officials are members of the parliament, and the election is an opportunity to see if any established names are missing.

It comes at a time of heightened speculation over the stability of Kim Jong-un’s regime.

Kim Jong-un has already overseen sweeping changes within the North’s ruling elite — the most dramatic example being the execution of his powerful uncle and political mentor Jang Song-thaek in December last year on charges of treason and corruption.

“It’s a chance to see who might be tagged for key roles under Kim Jong-un,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University for North Korean Studies.

“The list of names can also point to what, if any, generational changes have been made,” he said.