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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Correction 2019-03-18: A previous version of the article said Ri Su Yong was reelected, when in fact he was elected to the SPA for the first time
DPRK leader Kim Jong Un did not appear on a list of members elected to the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly announced on Korean Central Television (KCTV) broadcast Tuesday afternoon, potentially marking a first for the North Korean leadership.
It is the first time since the 1967 vote that a special message announcing the leader’s successful election has not preceded the release of the total list of elected members.
If no further announcement is made that Kim Jong Un was elected to the SPA, then it would also represent the first time a North Korean leader has not ran for a seat in the legislative body in all 14 elections.
The latest vote was held on Sunday, reportedly drawing 99.99% turnout with 100% of voters casting their ballots for the nominated candidates, according to state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
That KCNA report also said that a total of 687 members were elected.
But with Kim Jong Un’s name not appearing in Tuesday’s KCTV broadcast of the SPA’s new members, it appears the North Korean leader may have chosen not to stand for election this time around.
“This is the first time a Kim leader has not been elected to the SPA since their first election to the North Korean parliament,” NK Pro analyst Minyoung Lee said, pointing to Kim Il Sung’s election to the first SPA in 1948.
Kim Jong Il was first elected to the SPA in 1982 – before he became the country’s leader – and every subsequent election until his death, Lee continued.
Kim Jong Un, in turn, was first elected in 2014 just over two years after taking power.
He was at the time elected to district 111, representing the country’s symbolic Mount Paektu.
“Most ranking members of the North Korean party, government, and military are by default elected to North Korea’s rubber-stamp legislature,” Lee added.
“In that vein, it is extremely unusual for the North Korean leader to not be elected.”
The move represents an unprecedented shift in tradition, but it is yet to be seen if it is indicative of a larger change in North Korea’s leadership structure.
“For now, it appears as though this is part of North Korea’s ongoing efforts to be perceived as a normal state: in most democratic countries, the president does not have a seat in the parliament,” Lee said.
Other notable results announced Tuesday include the first-time election to the SPA of various top figures in Kim Jong Un’s ruling circle.
Among the newcomers were Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui, first vice-department director at the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee Kim Song Nam, Secretary of the State Affairs Commission (SAC) Kim Chang Son, and vice-chairman of the WPK Central Committee Ri Su Yong.
Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong was also formally elected for the first time, but has served in the SPA since 2016.
Ri Yong Ho has served as the country’s foreign minister since 2016, while Choe Son Hui headed up nuclear negotiations with the U.S. before being replaced as Pyongyang’s key working-level official earlier this year.
Both, along with the newly re-elected Kim Yong Chol, were the top officials by Kim Jong Un’s side during the recent summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi.
Ri Su Yong and Kim Song Nam also traveled to Hanoi for the summit, both participating in a separate delegation led by Ri that visited factories and other locations on an economic learning tour with local Vietnamese officials.
Kim Chang Son is considered to serve as chief-of-staff of sorts to Kim Jong Un, and was seen traveling to Singapore and Hanoi ahead of the North Korean leader’s summits with President Trump to help organize and prepare the visits.
While Kim Jong Un appears to have sat out the latest elections, state media did report that he cast a vote on Sunday at a polling location at Pyongyang’s Kim Chaek University (KCUT) of Technology.
“He received a vote from the chairman of the election committee at Sub-constituency No. 40 of Constituency No. 10 for the election of deputies to the SPA,” according to a KCNA report, voting for president of KCUT Hong So Hon.
Voters in North Korea are only offered a single choice for candidate in their district, with the option to either turn in their ballot with the candidate’s name pre-printed on it, or to cross out the name before dropping it in the ballot box.
The Supreme People’s Assembly is expected to sit for its first session in early April.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA