North Koreans cast votes, but government decides for whom


North Koreans went to the polls on Sunday to approve a new national legislature.

The vote for the Supreme People’s Assembly is the first in five years and the first under leader Kim Jong Un. The last elections were held in March 2009, when 687 deputies were elected to the assembly. The assembly is the most powerful body under the communist country’s constitution, but in reality has little political power.

Instead of choosing a candidate, voters are given the choice of choosing yes or no for the single candidate on the ballot. Virtually all choose yes.

Despite the lack of drama, the voting was being held in a holiday atmosphere, with national flags hoisted along the streets, women decked out in colorful traditional clothing and dancing events in parks, schools and riversides.

Voting in authoritarian North Korea is considered to be obligatory. Outside observers say that this makes the elections an opportunity for authorities to check up on the population and tighten control.

Hyon Byong Chol, the chairman of a preparatory committee for one of the sub-districts in the election, called the vote “meaningful” because it is the first under Kim.

“Through this election we will fully display the might of the single-hearted unity of our army and people who are firmly united behind our respected marshal,” he said.

The Supreme People’s Assembly usually runs five-year sessions. It meets only rarely, often only once a year. When it is not in session, its work is done by a smaller and more powerful body called the Presidium.

Kim is also a candidate. State media announced that his constituency is a remote mountain area on the border with China. Mount Paekdu is venerated in North Korea’s official history as the birthplace of Kim Jong Il, although historians outside the country agree he was born in the former Soviet Union.

Election results are normally announced the following day.

The new parliament was expected to meet next month. No date has been officially announced.