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N. Korea to hold parliamentary vote

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IOL pic jan8 Kim Jong-Un

Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea on Wednesday announced elections to its rubber-stamp parliament in March, the first under leader Kim Jong-Un as he seeks to cement his grip on power after purging his uncle.

The presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) decided the election - held every five years - would take place on March 9, the North's official KCNA news agency said.

The last parliamentary vote - a highly staged process with only one approved candidate standing for each of the 687 districts -

was held in 2009 under the leadership of Kim's father, Kim Jong-Il.

Kim succeeded his father in December 2011, and the March election will be closely watched for any further revelations on the changing power structure in Pyongyang.

He has already overseen sweeping changes within the North's ruling elite - the most dramatic example being the execution of his powerful uncle and political mentor Jang Song-Thaek last month on charges of treason and corruption.

In his New Year message last week, Kim said the country had been strengthened by the removal of “factionalist scum”.

Since Jang's execution, the North has recalled and purged a number of diplomats and officials working overseas, according to Seoul's top official for North Korea affairs.

Jang, like many top North Korean officials was a member of the SPA, and the March vote will provide an opportunity to see if any senior figures are removed from the candidates' list.

“It will also be interesting to see who the new faces are, as some of them may be tagged for a key role under Kim Jong-Un,” said Kim Yeon-Chul, a professor at Inje University's Unification Department.

Cheong Seong-Chang of the Sejong Institute think-tank in Seoul said the election could herald a “generational change” under Kim Jong-Un who is believed to be around 30 years old.

Kim might well be among the candidates if he chooses to follow his father's example of standing in the parliamentary vote.

The official turnout in 2009 was put at 99.98 percent of registered voters, with 100 percent voting for the approved candidate in each seat.

The rubber-stamp parliament is usually called into session twice a year for a day or two to pass government budgets and approve personal changes.

The last session in April 2013 saw the appointment of a new prime minister Pak Pong-Ju - seen by some as an economic reformer.

It also adopted a special ordinance formalising the country's position as a nuclear weapons state. -Sapa-AFP


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