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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was on Monday reported to have voted in Sunday’s election of deputies to local people’s assemblies, with the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) saying he cast his ballot in South Hamgyong Province.
Elections of provincial, city, and county people’s assemblies were “successfully held,” KCNA said, with data provided by the country’s Central Election Guidance Committee listing voter turnout as 99.98 percent.
“Voters who cannot go to voting booths because of old age or illness… cast their ballots into a mobile ballot box,” the KCNA reported in a Korean-language dispatch.
“All participants firmly strengthened the DPRK as a fortress of invincibility while being firmly united around beloved and respected Supreme Leader Comrade Kim Jong Un,” a report carried on the front page of Monday edition of party daily the Rodong Sinmun read.
“[They] participated in the election with hearts full of patriotism, powerfully demonstrating the might of single-minded unity, which is the first national power of Juche Korea and a true feature of people-centered and DPRK-style socialism.”
Election committees at constituencies across the country will now proceed with the vote count, state media reported on Sunday.
The election of deputies to provincial (municipal), city (district), and county people’s assemblies are held every four years, with Sunday’s local elections being the second to be held since Kim Jong Un came to power.
It also follows elections for members of the North’s rubber-stamp Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) in February.
Elections in North Korea are not typically seen as either free or fair, with voters given the choice between endorsing the candidate approved by the ruling party or registering their abstention on the ballot.
KCNA and the Rodong Sinmun on Monday reported that the leader had voted at a polling station in Sub-constituency No.94 of Constituency No.201 in South Hamgyong Province.
He was said to have voted for local candidates Ju Song Ho and Jong Song Sik.
“The Supreme Leader Comrade met the candidates and warmly encouraged them to become faithful servants of the people by fulfilling the duty given to them as to not to fail to live up to the expectations of the people,” North Korean media said in a Korean-language report.
Kim reportedly called on the candidates to have a “lofty sense of self-awareness as the representatives of the people.”
“The electorate firmly solidified their people’s power with pride and self-respect as citizens of Juche Korea,” the Rodong Sinmun and KCNA reported.
“They were filled with revolutionary enthusiasm to further brighten the country’s socialist system by actively rising up for the struggle towards accomplishing the line of building a powerful socialist country… raising the banner of self-reliance aloft.”
The North Korean leader was accompanied during the vote by senior officials from the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee including Jo Yong Won, who serves as the first vice director of the Organization Guidance Department (OGD).
Officials from the party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD) Ri Yong Sik and Hyon Song Wol also attended.
July 2015 saw the North Korean leader vote at a polling station in Pyongyang accompanied by Hwang Pyong So, Pak Pong Ju, Ri Jae Il, and sister Kim Yo Jong.
“When Kim Jong Un voted in the local elections in 2015, he was accompanied by Ri Chae Il, first vice director of the party Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD), and PAD Vice Director Kim Yo Jong,” Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News’s sister site NK Pro, said.
“PAD First Vice Director Ri Yong Sik and PAD Vice Director Hyon Song Wol accompanied Kim Jong Un” this year, she noted.
“There are multiple PAD vice directors, so Hyon’s appearance at the local elections with the leader seems to suggest that she may have taken over Kim Yo Jong’s former duties when she was vice director of the PAD, extending beyond protocol,” Lee said. “Ri Yong Sik appears to have replaced Ri Chae Il as First Vice Director of the PAD before February 2019.”
Ahead of the election, the Rodong on Sunday stressed the importance of “single-minded unity,” in a Korean-language editorial calling on citizens to send a warning to the country’s “enemies” with their votes.
“Whenever elections were held, our people clearly showed that the single-minded unity of Juche Korea was never empty talk by voting 100% in favor, with the high-level of political zeal and civic awareness.”
The “loyalty of the people towards the Party and the leader and the support and trust in the Republican regime is unshakable,” it continued. “Socialism is our life and livelihood. Our people — who engrave the preciousness of the socialist system in their bones — will never falter in the path of socialism that they choose.”
“Every favorable vote dedicated by electorate becomes a stern and heavy blow to enemies who are attempting to annihilate our ideas and systems as well as life.”
NK Pro analyst Lee noted the unusual rhetoric of the editorial, arguing the language ties into an increasingly hardline stance emerging from the DPRK in recent weeks.
“The reference to the enemies and using the local elections to foil their attempt to destroy North Korea’s ideas and ways of life is unusual in that such language did not come up in the party daily editorials on the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly election in April,” Lee said.
“That said, it is consistent with what appears to be Pyongyang’s hardening position on the U.S. in recent weeks, for example, the references to ‘U.S. imperialists’ marking the beginning of the anti-U.S. struggle month on June 25, which was not observed on June 25, 2018,” she continued.
“Another example is the extremely unusual spate of rare, highly authoritative Rodong Sinmun articles carried between May 20 and July 13 that warned against foreign influences and emphasized doing everything the North Korean way.”
State-run broadcaster Korean Central Television (KCTV) on Sunday evening aired footage of other senior North Korean ruling party and government officials taking part in the vote at polling stations across the country.
First vice-chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC) Choe Ryong Hae, Premier Kim Jae Ryong, PAD director Pak Kwang Ho, and vice-chairmen of the WPK Central Committee Ri Su Yong and Kim Yong Chol were shown voting in constituencies in Pyongyang.
Vice-chairman of the SAC Pak Pong Ju and director of the Cadre Department at the Party Central Committee Kim Phyong Hae were reported to have voted in Nampho, while Ri Man Gon — believed to be director of the powerful OGD — cast his ballot at a polling station in North Hwanghae Province.
The local People’s Assemblies, the DPRK Constitution says, are the “local organ of State power.”
Among various duties and authorities, provincial, city, and county People’s Assemblies reportedly approve “local plans for the development of the national economy,” local budgets, as well as report on implementation of projects to the central government.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: KCNA