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Asia-pacific

Near 100% turnout in rubber-stamp elections

Video by Siobhán SILKE , Sarah DRURY

Latest update : 2009-03-08

North Koreans on Sunday voted in rubber-stamp elections for a new parliament which analysts say could pave the way for a transition of power in Pyongyang and indicate who might succeed Kim Jong-II. Candidates are usually elected unopposed.

AFP - North Koreans voted Sunday in elections for a new parliament which analysts say could lay the groundwork for a transition of power in the impoverished communist nation.
  
The vote is also being closely monitored around the world for clues as to whether the state, which tested an atomic weapon in October 2006, will soften its stance in international negotiations to disarm its nuclear arsenal.
  
Voting to the rubber-stamp parliament did not take place in 2008 when its five-year term expired amid fevered speculation over the health of reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il.
  
The North's official Korean Central News Agency reported that 71.4 percent of registered voters had cast their ballot by midday.
  
"All the voters are going to the polls to consolidate the people's power as firm as a rock," it said, quoting the Central Election Commission.
  
Officials in Seoul and Washington say Kim Jong-Il has made a good recovery from a stroke in August last year and is still in control, but his health and age have inevitably led to talk abroad about who will succeed him.
  
He inherited power from his father, Kim Il-Sung, in the communist world's only dynastic succession. But it is unclear whether he wants one of his three sons to succeed him -- and if so, which one.
  
"Kim Jong-Il will turn 72 when the next election comes, and given his ageing, it is likely that an idea about a post-Kim era will be reflected in the elections this time," Kim Yong-Hyun, a North Korea expert and professor at Dongguk University in Seoul, told AFP.
  
Yonhap has reported, quoting unnamed sources, that the leader has named his third and youngest son, Jong-Un, as his successor and that the 25-year-old is running in the election.
  
The outcome of the election is not in doubt -- candidates are picked by the government or ruling party, and only one stands in each district.
  
The incoming assembly will re-elect Kim, 67, who is standing in a military district, as chairman of the National Defence Commission.
  
The commission, which supervises the 1.1 million-strong military, is North Korea's most powerful organ, and its new line-up will be seen as an indicator of who is moving up the echelons of power and influence.
  
A new parliament is also often the prelude to a cabinet reshuffle.
  
Assembly members are lawmakers, but it is common for them to hold key posts in the ruling communist party as well as in the military and government, Seoul officials say.
  
The South's JoongAng Ilbo paper said authorities in Seoul were watching to see if Kim’s youngest son would be elected.
  
Dongguk University's Kim said the outcome would not necessarily manifest a father-to-son succession but see "a generation change" in the top ranks.
  
"The North will likely bring in the young to replace the elderly with a future possible power transition in mind," he said, adding that Pyongyang's power elite was significantly overhauled in the 1998 and 2003 polls.
  
In a letter last month, Kim Jong-Il called the elections "significant" in terms of reviving the economy by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of his father, the nation's founding president.
  
Seoul's state-backed Institute for National Security Strategy says that it expects the North to use the polls to promote people with specialist knowledge in an attempt to save the disastrous economy.
  
The private Institute for Far Eastern Studies, for its part, predicts Kim "will further strengthen his grasp on the regime" through the election.
  
In the previous polls in 2003, state media boasted of a 99.9 percent voter turnout and 100 percent support for every candidate.

Date created : 2009-03-08

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