North Korean voters can cast a ballot, but only for one candidate


People walk along a street in Pyongyang.


Ed Jones

SEOUL, South Korea — North Koreans went to the polls on Sunday to elect a rubber-stamp parliament in an election expected to provide a rare glimpse of a power shift taking place under the leadership of Kim Jong Un.

It is the first election for the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) under the young ruler who took power in December 2011 following the death of his father Kim Jong Il. The voting began at 9 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. The North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), citing a report by the Central Election Committee, said that every registered voter had taken part in the election, except for those traveling in foreign countries or working at sea.

The communist state holds the election every five years, with the last one held in March 2009.

Except for the physical voting, it is largely considered a formality because North Korean voters can cast their ballot for only one candidate standing for each of the 687 constituencies.

The official voter turnout was tallied at 99.98 percent for the last election, with 100 percent voting for the approved candidates. The turnout figure for this year's election wasn't immediately available but is once again expected to be around 100 percent.

Kim Jong Un registered as a candidate for the constituency 111 Mount Paekdu, the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula which Pyongyang promotes as the legendary birthplace of Kim and his late father.

Experts have paid keen attention to the outcome of the result, which is usually announced the day after the voting, to see who will be removed from the ballot sheet following the execution of Kim's once-powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek in December.

"It is highly likely that North Korea has reorganized the power structure ahead of the election," said Jang Yong Seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification at Seoul National University. "The first meeting of the 13th Supreme People's Assembly is expected to be a period to follow-up measures to the ouster of Jang Song Thaek."

The current president of the SPA is North Korea's ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong Nam, who has held the position since 1998. The 86-year-old is North Korea's official No. 2 figure, following leader Kim, who chairs the powerful National Defense Commission.

The KCNA also said Sunday that Kim Jong-un cast his vote at the Kim Il Sung University of Politics, along with officials of the North's Korean People's Army (KPA), including Choe Ryong Hae, director of the KPA's General Political Bureau.

The KCNA added that the North Korean leader was accompanied by his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong.

It marked the first time that the younger Kim, 27, was identified in the state media. She had previously appeared on North Korean television attending key national functions, but Pyongyang media had made no mention of her until Sunday.

In the KCNA dispatch, Kim Yo Jong was listed as among senior officials of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party who accompanied Kim Jong Un on Sunday, along with Kim Kyong Ok and Hwang Pyong So.

Hwang is a vice department director of the Workers' Party, and that Kim Yo Jong's name immediately followed Hwang's likely indicates that she may hold a similar position at the party, an equivalent of a vice cabinet minister in South Korea.

Kim Yo-jong has seen her stocks rise in the North Korean power game following Jang Song Thaek's execution, and analysts here believe she will eventually become a senior Workers' Party secretary. She will then assume similar responsibilities as a close aide to Kim Jong Un that Kim Kyong Hui, younger sister of Kim Jong Il, did for the former leader as a high-ranking party secretary, analysts say.

Kim Yo Jong is believed to have been educated in Switzerland along with Kim Jong Un.