SEOUL, South Korea – Kim Jong Il was unanimously re-elected to North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament, state media said Monday, in elections closely watched for signs of a political shift or hints the autocratic leader is grooming a successor.
All eligible voters in Constituency No. 333 cast ballots for Kim, renewing their "unshakable determination to devotedly safeguard" the leader, the official Korean Central News Agency said in first results from Sunday's poll.
A list of legislators to the 12th Supreme People's Assembly is expected later Monday. Observers are watching the results closely for clues to how Kim and the ruling elite will govern the communist nation over the next five years, and any signs he is grooming a successor.
Kim, 67, reportedly suffered a stroke last August, around the time the elections were due to be held. North Korea denies he was ill and did not provide a reason for the poll delayed to March.
Kim's third son, Kim Jong Un, reportedly ran for a seat Sunday in what analysts say would be a strong sign he is poised to inherit power. The 26-year-old is the youngest of the leader's three known sons and is said to be his father's favorite.
The poll was held as North Korea claimed it was powering ahead with plans to send a communications satellite into orbit -- a launch regional powers fear is a cover for a long-range Taepodong-2 missile capable of striking Alaska.
North Korea said Monday it ordered its armed forces on standby and warned it will retaliate against anyone seeking to block its launch plan. The warning came hours after South Korea and the U.S. kicked off their annual military drills, which the North has condemned as a rehearsal for an invasion.
North Korea's parliament meets only a few times a year to rubber-stamp bills vetted by the ruling party. The rest of the time, lawmakers serve in key party, government and military posts, making the list of legislators a telling indicator of how Kim's third term will take shape politically, analysts say.
The past two elections have resulted in significant turnover. The 1998 balloting was Kim's formal ascension to power; he had inherited the country's leadership upon his father's death four years earlier but waited for the poll to clear out nearly two-thirds of the assembly's lawmakers.
This year, experts predict Kim will fill the 12th Supreme People's Assembly with technocrats and finance-savvy figures capable of reviving the country's shattered economy as the nation faces international pressure to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.