North Korea held nationwide elections to its rubber-stamp Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) on Sunday, the country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
The vote — the second since Kim Jong Un took power — sees North Koreans citizens elect deputies to all 687 seats in the 14th SPA for five year terms.
“The election of deputies to the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK is underway,” KCNA reported. “As of 12:00, 56.76 percent of all the electors registered on the voter rolls cast their votes.”
The DPRK last held elections in 2014, after which the KCNA said that 99.97% of all registered voters had participated.
State media in the run-up to Sunday’s election said the election would give voters the chance to “strikingly manifest the fixed will of our people to firmly trust and uphold to the last Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.”
“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, an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), said in an editorial Sunday morning.
Voters were urged to “cast approval ballots with their loyalty to the party and the leader, absolute support to the DPRK government and the will to share their destiny with socialism to the last.”
North Korean elections are not free or fair and offer voters little choice, with citizens voting for one candidate pre-approved by their local party committee.
And while the SPA ultimately wields little influence in state policy, election results can offer hints at ups and downs in the country’s leadership.
“The SPA elections give the regime an opportunity to change the membership of the largest formal grouping of elites in the government, sort of a “who’s who” in North Korean politics,” NK News‘s John Grisafi previously wrote.
Leader Kim Jong Un also holds a seat in the legislature: “111 Paektusan,” having been elected to the position unanimously five years ago.
State media reported that Kim voted Sunday morning, arriving at a polling station in Pyongyang’s Kim Chaek University of Technology around 1100.
“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 and cast it for Hong So Hon, a candidate for a deputy to the SPA,” KCNA said.
Defectors told NK News in 2014 that elections in the North primarily serve as a tool of state control, allowing local party officials to monitor the population and test public loyalty.
Glyn Ford, a director at Track2Asia and a frequent visitor to North Korea, said they also serve as an “extra holiday in celebration of Party and Nation.”
“It’s more a festival than anything else with decorations outside, live music and dancing!” Ford, who was in-country for municipal elections in 2011, told NK News. “Part of community bonding, re-affirmation of the strength of people, party and nation.”
Those elections saw voters in Pyongyang given two options, he said: “There you were given a ballot paper with a single name and went into a separate room curtained off with the ballot box and a pencil. You either inserted the ballot unmarked or crossed it out.”
“I was told the candidate was elected if he/she received more ‘blank’ ballots than ones crossed through,” Ford added. “In the polling stations where I was taken the appearance suggested the voters had a serious degree of privacy – but I have no evidence that this is standard practice.”
Full results are expected to be released on Tuesday.