SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea on Sunday held its first parliamentary elections under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, who was expected to use the polls and a newly elected legislature to elevate officials loyal to him and further consolidate his power.
North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly has served as a rubber-stamp parliament, endorsing whatever decisions were made by the top leader and his inner circles, who dominate the top echelons of the ruling Workers’ Party, the People’s Army and the government.
In the last parliamentary election, held five years ago when Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, was still alive, a single candidate ran unopposed in each of the 687 districts, and all the deputies were elected with 100 percent support. The government reported voter turnout of 99.98 percent.
The North Korean authorities run parliamentary elections as an effective political census, a chance to check on the whereabouts and political allegiance of citizens, as well as the ability of local Workers’ Party officials to mobilize residents. People pile into voting booths casting unmarked ballots in a rapid succession. Those who oppose the state-selected candidate are supposedly allowed to pause to cross out the candidate’s name, effectively making the process a monitored event, according to defectors from the North.
On Sunday, the North’s main party-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, urged North Koreans to fulfill their “duty” by showing a “single-minded solidarity” for Kim and his party.
The new parliamentary lineup emerging from Sunday’s election will provide outside analysts with a glimpse of who is rising and falling in favor from Kim. In the North, major military, party and state officials double as legislators.
Since he assumed power after the death of his father in December 2011, Kim has engineered a series of personnel changes and political purges among the elite in a move that outside analysts said was aimed largely at eliminating potential challenges to his rule. The most dramatic of such purges unfolded in December, when Jang Song Thaek, Kim’s uncle and the second-most powerful man in the North, was executed on charges of corruption and plotting to overthrow Kim.
Kim himself was running for a seat representing the district of Baekdusan, a mountain on the central border with China. Koreans consider the volcanic mountain the birthplace of their nation.