North Korea holds election, Kim Jong Un runs in legendary district

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 05, 2014 6:28 AM

By James Pearson

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea, accused of human rights violations, elects its largely symbolic parliament this weekend, with leader Kim Jong Un, the third in his family dynasty to rule the totalitarian state, running unopposed in a legendary mountain district.

State news agency KCNA said on Thursday that election preparations were "gaining momentum", with voters confirming their names on electoral lists for the ballot held every five years.

"Agitation activities are going on to encourage citizens to take active part in the election with high political enthusiasm and labor feats, amid the playing of 'Song of the election,'" KCNA reported.

North Koreans, it said, sought to "demonstrate once again the might of single-minded unity by casting ballots for their candidates".

North Korea stands accused by a U.N. report issued this month of torture and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities. Authorities in Pyongyang have denounced the report as "faked".

The North's Supreme People's Assembly is empowered by law to approve the budget and make senior appointments, including to the powerful National Defence Commission.

In practice, it is a largely symbolic body meeting twice a year in a country where decision-making authority lies with the ruling Korean Workers' Party.

Each district has a single candidate, with the overwhelming majority from the party, although a few independents, such as pro-Pyongyang Koreans from Japan, are allowed to take part.

Kim, presumed to be 31 years old, is standing for the 687-seat assembly for the first time since taking office in 2012 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. And he is running in Paektusan, an inactive volcano on the border with China described in national folklore as his father's birthplace.

"I feel very grateful for your expression of deep trust in me and extend warm thanks from the bottom of my heart," Kim said, thanking voters and announcing his candidacy in an open letter released by the KCNA last month.

A vice minister of construction has held the Paektusan seat since 2009 and it was unclear if he was standing elsewhere.

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Voting is compulsory and results are usually announced the following day, along with turnout figures just short of 100 percent.

Analysts say the entire exercise also functions as a census and a mechanism to check on the whereabouts of residents and possible defections or attempts to illegally cross internal borders.

"Travel restrictions and surveillance are ramped up before the election," Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea, an NGO that works with North Korean defectors, said in an email.

"Various heads of local work and residential units make sure everything on their patch is in order, to avoid criticism and trouble if the election does reveal missing people."

Kim Jong Il, who died of a heart attack in 2011, held a seat in the outgoing assembly and was expected to remain as a member.

(Editing by Ron Popeski)