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2009/03/12 10:54 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 45 (March 12, 2009)

   **** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

No Surprises in N. Korea's March Parliamentary Elections

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea elected a total of 687 members to its parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), on March 8, but there were no major changes to the present power structure as most of the old elites retained their posts. According to election results released by the North, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has been reelected as an SPA member, but none of his three sons, among whom one is rumored to be his successor, were listed among the new Assembly deputies.

   In the election for the 12th-term legislature, about 46 percent, or 316 lawmakers, were replaced. Although the SPA is a rubber-stamp legislature, the deputies form the power elite of the North, taking key positions in the military, government and Workers' Party.

   The North's Central Election Committee said on March 9 that election returns available showed that 99.98 percent of all the voters registered across the country participated in the balloting and 100 percent of the participants voted for the candidates for deputies to the SPA registered in their constituencies.

   With most of the senior officials retaining their posts, fewer members were replaced than in the 2003 election, when new faces accounted for 50 percent of the new legislature, the official said.

   Kim Jong-il was elected in a military district in Pyongyang with 100 percent approval. "This is the expression of all servicepersons and people's absolute support and profound trust in Kim Jong-il," the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. It is Kim's sixth election since he first ran in 1982, two years after he was officially named successor to his father, North Korean founder Kim Il-sung.

   The elections took place amid speculation that Kim, recovering from a suspected stroke last year, might name an heir. "No special signs of power succession were shown in the latest elections," Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman of Seoul's Unification Ministry, said on March 10.

   Rumors had mounted that Kim's third and youngest son was running for a seat, in what would have been a sign that a power succession was imminent. But Kim Jong-un, 26, was conspicuously absent from the election list. "There was no surprise. Neither Kim Jong-un nor Kim Jong-nam (the leader's first son) was on the list," an official at Seoul's Unification Ministry said.

   The parliamentary elections, originally expected to be held before last September, were bypassed amid rumors of Kim's poor health. When the North earlier this year rescheduled the elections, many outsiders interpreted it as a sign that the leader had made a full recovery.

   The new lineup backed rumors that North Korea has sacked its point man on South Korea. Choe Sung-chol, vice chairman of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee handling inter-Korean affairs, was removed from the Assembly, according to the list. Observers suspect he was dismissed in early 2008 for not accurately assessing South Korea's Lee Myung-bak government.

   Some of the new officials filled vacancies created by the deaths of senior lawmakers, but most veteran politicians, known as "the first generation of the Korean revolution," were reelected.

   Kim Yong-nam, the North's titular head of state and the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, kept his post, as did Jo Myong-rok, the first vice chairman of the National Defense Commission.

   Key military officials were elected to the parliament, a strong sign in support of the North's dominating military-first (Songun) political ideology. Korean People's Army Marshal Ri Ul-sol and Ri Yong-mu, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, were also reelected.

   While the aged comrades of Kim Il-sung, the late founder of the state, were expected to retire from politics, their symbolic significance was too important to fade in North Korean society, experts said. O Kuk-ryol and Pak Myong-chol, Pyongyang's elder statesmen who had temporarily retired, also returned.

   Yang Hyong-sop, the vice president of SPA Presidium, was re-elected for his 10th term, becoming the longest serving lawmaker of the North.

   Jang Song-thaek, a Workers' Party official and brother-in-law of Kim Jong-il, was re-elected along with other key officials of the cabinet, party and military. Many others who support Jang were known to have been elected to the parliament, sources said.

   Lawmakers who had been accused of corruption, such as Choe Yong-su, former minister of people's security, were ousted.

   Ri Myong-su, an administrative department head of the National Defense Commission who had been known as Kim Jong-il's shadow, also did not make it into the list of new lawmakers. Ri was last seen in February during Kim's visit to a military unit, and intelligence officials speculated that he either has health problems or has committed a serious mistake.

   Elected among the North's veterans handling South Korean affairs are Kim Yang-gon, the head of the unification front department; Ri Jong-hyok, vice chairman of the North's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee; and Kim Yong-dae, chairman of the Korean Council For Reconciliation and Cooperation.

   Through the latest elections, the North also appointed young technocrats to the leadership posts to achieve the county's vision of constructing "Kangsong Taeguk," literally translated into a great, prosperous and powerful country, by 2012.

   Kim Sok-nam, Kim Myong-hwan and Sin Yong-chol are factory managers known for their business success since early 2000. All three made the list.

   Newly appointed ministers in charge of North Korea's economy also won places in the legislature.

   In its report on March 10, the KCNA said that officials, servicepersons of the Korean People's Army, workers, farmers and intellectuals who are devotedly striving for the Party and the leader, the country and the people were elected to the SPA. "This is a token of the entire electors' expectation and trust in the deputies," the KCNA said.

   The new parliament is expected to convene in early April. In their first meeting, the new lawmakers will reappoint Kim as chairman of the National Defense Commission, the highest decision-making body that oversees the country's 1.19 million-strong military. They will also decide on policy goals and reshuffles in the military and the Cabinet.

   There is no competition in the North's parliamentary elections, as only one candidate is nominated to run in each district. Virtually no dissenting vote is allowed.

   People 17 years or older can run and vote in the election. Voters draw a horizontal line through the candidate's name only if they oppose the single candidate. Otherwise, they simply put their ballots into the ballot box without marking them.