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North Koreans vote in 'election' for parliament

SEOUL--North Koreans voted Sunday 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 a whopping 91 percent as of 2:00 p.m.

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

“Overjoyed” voters rushed to polling stations across the country from early in the morning, it claimed, adding many danced and played music on the street in praise of the leader, Kim Jong Un.

The North's state TV showed hundreds of people across the country clad in brightly colored traditional dresses dancing in circle on the street.

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.”

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.

It was the first election to the SPA under the leadership of Kim, who took over the reins of power on the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011.

And like his father before him, Kim 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.

TV footage showed hundreds of soldiers lining up at a polling station in constituency number 111 and dancing in unison on the street to festive music.

Portraits of Kim's late father and grandfather were hung on the wall behind the ballot box. Soldiers deeply bowed to the portraits after casting their votes.

“I gave the vote, the evidence of my loyalty, to our supreme leader comrade,” one soldier said in a TV interview.

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 ruling Workers' Party.

The last session in April 2013 adopted a special ordinance formalizing the country's position as a nuclear weapons state — a status that both South Korea and the United States 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 Korean officials are members of the parliament, and the election is an opportunity to see if any established names are absent.

It comes at a time of heightened speculation over the stability of Kim's regime.

Kim 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 on charges of treason and corruption.

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

Policy Clues

“The list of names can also point to what, if any, generational changes have been made and what policy directions Kim Jong Un might be favoring,” Yang said.

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People gather to watch a performer sing near an election site in the Central District near Taedong Gate in Pyongyang on Sunday. (AP)

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