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North Korea Elections to Reshape Parliament
Mar 12, 2014

North Korea held its first parliamentary elections under the leadership of Kim Jong-un on 9 March, who was expected to use the polls and a newly elected legislature to elevate officials loyal to him and further consolidate his power.

North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly has served as a rubber-stamp Parliament, endorsing whatever decisions were made by the top leader and his inner circles, who dominate the top echelons of the ruling Workers’ Party, the People’s Army and the government.

In the last parliamentary election held five years ago when Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, was still alive, a single candidate ran unopposed in each of the 687 districts, and all the deputies were elected with 100 percent support. The government reported voter turnout of 99.98 percent.

The North Korean authorities run parliamentary elections as an effective political census, a chance to check up on the whereabouts and the political allegiance of citizens, as well as the ability of local Workers’ Party officials to mobilize residents.

People pile into voting booths casting unmarked ballots in rapid succession. Those who oppose the state-selected candidate are supposedly allowed to pause to cross out the candidate’s name, effectively making the process a monitored event.

In a country where major military, party and state officials double as legislators, the new parliamentary lineup emerging from the election will provide outside analysts a glimpse of who is rising in and falling from Kim’s favour.

Since assumed power after the death of his father in December 2011, Kim Jong-un has engineered a series of personnel changes and political purges among the elite that were aimed largely at eliminating potential challenges to his rule. The most dramatic purge unfolded in December when Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle and the second-most powerful man in the North Korea, was executed on charges of corruption and plotting to overthrow Kim Jong-un.

In the North Korean Constitution, the assembly has the power to adopt guidelines on crucial policy issues, like nuclear weapons development, and replace cabinet ministers and members of the National Defense Commission, the top governing agency.

With a newly elected Parliament filled with his own people, Kim Jong-un will feel more confident. Kim Jong-un himself was contested a seat representing the district of Baekdusan, a mountain on the central border with China. Koreans consider the volcanic mountain the birthplace of their nation.

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