North Korea votes for new rubber-stamp parliament

Sunday, March 08, 2009
By JEAN H. LEE, Associated Press Writer

SEOUL, South Korea —  North Koreans lined up Sunday to vote for the country's next rubber-stamp parliament, endorsing candidates hand-picked by the ruling party in a poll closely watched for signs of a political shift or hints leader Kim Jong Il has anointed a successor.

Sunday's election was largely a formality, since only one candidate is listed on the ballot in each constituency. Officially, the vote is secret. But those who oppose the sole candidate must go to a special booth to cross out the name before placing it in a ballot box _ an act of rebellion defectors say is all but unthinkable.

On Monday, outside observers will be analyzing the election results for signs that Kim, 67, who reportedly suffered a stroke last August, is grooming a third-generation leader in the world's first communist dynasty.

Kim's son Jong Un reportedly ran for a seat 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.

Elections scheduled for last year were postponed around the time Kim suffered his reported stroke and disappeared from public. But Kim appears to have recovered and was up for a third five-year term Sunday. North Korean state media broadcast photos of him voting in his trademark jumpsuit and gold-rimmed glasses.

The Supreme People's Assembly only meets 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.

In 2003, half the legislators were swept from office as Kim emphasized the "songun," or "military first," policy that has defined his leadership.

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.

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.

President Barack Obama's new North Korea envoy, Stephen Bosworth, has urged the North to refrain from launching either a satellite or a missile, saying both would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution barring it from engaging in ballistic activity.

"Carrying out a launch of a satellite is our duly given right that cannot be stopped by anyone," the Tongil Shinbo, a Japan-based pro-North Korean weekly magazine considered to be a government mouthpiece, said Sunday.

The North also is incensed by U.S. and South Korean plans to hold 12 days of joint military exercises across South Korea starting Monday. Washington has 28,500 troops in South Korea, which technically remains at war with the North because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The allies say the drills are annual defensive exercises. North Korea sees them as preparation for an attack and has threatened danger to South Korean passenger planes flying near its airspace, prompting several airlines to reroute their flights as a precaution.

Sunday, however, was a day for celebration in North Korea. Women donned bright traditional "hanbok" dresses and men put on suits and ties. Outside each polling booth, flags fluttered overhead as hundreds danced under clear blue winter skies.

Outside the polling booth in Constituency No. 333, where Kim Jong Il ran for a seat, footage broadcast on state TV showed soldiers dancing and clapping to the strident tooting of a brass band and a trio of singers. Inside, the name "Kim Jong Il" was printed in red on ballots dropped into a glossy white ballot box flanked by red flowers.

At an electrical wire factory in Pyongyang, voters used both hands in a gesture of respect as they cast ballots beneath portraits of Kim and his father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, whose cult of personality remains intact nearly 15 years after his death.

"I cast a ballot of patriotism, a ballot of approval with a mind to strengthen our socialist system _ the best in the world, as firm as a rock," factory worker Kim Un Kyong told AP Television News, a Kim Il Sung badge pinned to her dress.

___

Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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