North Korea holds election as Kim vows to rebuild economy

11, Mar. 2019

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PYONGYANG/BEIJING, Kyodo - North Korea on Sunday held a nationwide election for its rubber-stamp parliament, as leader Kim Jong Un has prioritized reconstructing the country's economy over bolstering its nuclear and missile arsenal.

The event, held for the second time since Kim became supreme leader in the wake of his father's death in December 2011, is merely ceremonial, with an expected voter turnout of over 99 percent.

The election for the 14th Supreme People's Assembly, however, has drawn attention from outside observers as its outcome could provide a rare glimpse of any shift in North Korea's very closed elite structure.

The once-every-five-year election also took place after Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump fell short of a deal at their Feb. 27-28 summit in Hanoi over the gap between Washington's insistence on denuclearization and Pyongyang's demand for sanctions relief.

Citizens over 17 years old are entitled to participate in the election and given the choice of whether to approve or disapprove the single candidate in their areas, according to well-informed sources.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Sunday that newspapers, including North Korea's most influential daily, called on citizens to take part in the election.

“Each approval ballot is an expression of the fixed will to further cement the people's power and dynamically step up the building of a powerful socialist country,” the Rodong Sinmun of the ruling Workers' Party was quoted by KCNA as saying.

Last April, the Workers' Party of Korea, led by Kim, made a commitment to concentrate more on creating a “powerful socialist economy,” while promising to discontinue nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

But after last month's ultimately fruitless summit with the United States, North Korea has started rebuilding a portion of a facility previously used to test long-range missile engines, according to U.S. organizations that monitor the nation.

Pyongyang is believed to want Washington to ease economic sanctions aimed at preventing it from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, in a bid to invigorate the country's sluggish economy.

The election results are likely to be announced Monday. KCNA reported that Kim voted at the polling station set up in Kim Chaek University of Technology in the capital.

North Korea last held a parliamentary election in March 2014. Candidates normally win seats in uncontested elections and the legislature rubber stamps decisions already made by the ruling party.

At the election five years ago, all deputies registered in each of the 687 constituencies were elected to the assembly.

New assembly members are expected to meet in April to discuss the national budget and other policies. (Kyodo)