North Koreans voted Sunday in a predetermined election for a rubberstamp parliament — an exercise that doubles as a national headcount and may offer clues to power shifts in Pyongyang.
The vote to elect representatives for the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) was taking place as scheduled, the state-run KCNA news agency said, adding that voter turnout was a whopping 91 per cent as of 2pm local time.
Those who are ill or infirm and cannot travel to polling stations are casting votes at special “mobile ballot boxes,” it added.
“Overjoyed” voters rushed to polling stations across the country from early in the morning, it claimed, adding many danced and played music on the street in praise of the leader, Kim Jong-un.
The North’s state TV showed hundreds of people across the country clad in brightly-coloured traditional dresses dancing in circle on the street.
State-run media have in recent weeks stepped up propaganda to promote the election, with a number of poems produced to celebrate voting under titles including The Billows of Emotion and Happiness and We Go To Polling Station.
Apart from the physical casting of votes, there is nothing democratic about the ballot. The results are a foregone conclusion, with only one approved candidate standing for each of the 687 districts.
It was the first election to the SPA under the leadership of Mr Kim, who took over the reins of power on the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in December 2011.
And like his father before him, Mr Kim stood as a candidate — in constituency number 111, Mount Paektu.
Koreans have traditionally attributed divine status to Mount Paektu and, according to the North’s official propaganda, Kim Jong-il was born on its slopes.
TV footage showed hundreds of soldiers queuing up at a polling station in constituency number 111 and dancing in unison on the street to festive music.
Portraits of Mr Kim’s late father and grandfather were hung on the wall behind the ballot box. Soldiers deeply bowed to the portraits after casting their votes.
“I gave the vote, the evidence of my loyalty, to our supreme leader comrade,” one soldier said in a TV interview.
Elections are normally held every five years to the SPA, which only meets once or twice a year, mostly for a daylong session, to rubberstamp budgets or other decisions made by the ruling Workers’ Party.
The last session in April 2013 adopted a special ordinance formalising the country’s position as a nuclear weapons state — a status that both South Korea and the United States have vowed not to recognise.
The real interest for outside observers is the final list of candidates or winners — both lists being identical.
Many top Korean officials are members of the parliament, and the election is an opportunity to see if any established names are absent.
It comes at a time of heightened speculation over the stability of Mr Kim’s regime.
Kim 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 in December on charges of treason and corruption.
“It’s a chance to see who might be tagged for key roles under Kim Jong-un,” said professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University for North Korean Studies.
“The list of names can also point to what, if any, generational changes have been made and what policy directions Kim Jong-un might be favouring,” Prof Yang said.
In the absence of any competing candidates, voters are simply required to mark “yes” next to the name on the ballot sheet.
“Let us all cast ‘yes’ votes,” said one of many election banners that state TV showed being put up in the capital Pyongyang.
The official turnout at the last election in 2009 was put at 99.98 per cent of registered voters, with 100 per cent voting for the approved candidate in each seat.
For the North Korean authorities, the vote effectively doubles as a census, as election officials visit every home in the country to ensure all registered voters are present and correct.
“At any other point in the year, family members of missing persons can get away with lying or bribing surveillance agents, saying that the person they are looking for is trading in another district’s market,” said New Focus International, a defector-run website dedicated to North Korean news.
“But it is during an election period that a North Korean individual’s escape to China or South Korea becomes exposed,” it said.
Kim Jong-un has ramped up border security in an effort to curb defections, but more than 1500 made it to South Korea last year via China.
Ahn Chan-Il, a former defector who heads the World Institute for North Korea Studies in Seoul, said the crackdown was undermining the accuracy of the census, with many local officials not daring to report people missing from their neighbourhood.
“Otherwise, they would find themselves in trouble as it’s their responsibility,” Ahn said. [AFP]
US President, Donald Trump, Wife Test Positive For Covid-19
President of the United States, Donald Trump, and his wife, Melania Trump have both tested positive for COVID-19.
The President took to his official Twitter handle on Friday to make this announcement.
Trump was last seen in public on Thursday afternoon, returning to the White House after a fundraising trip to New Jersey.
Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2020
On Thursday, he announced that his aide, Hope Hicks tested positive for the virus which has killed over 1 million people around the world.
He further revealed that he and the first lady had taken the test and waiting for the results before announcing the outcome on Friday.
Hope Hicks, who has been working so hard without even taking a small break, has just tested positive for Covid 19. Terrible! The First Lady and I are waiting for our test results. In the meantime, we will begin our quarantine process!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2020
Mali: N’Daw, Coup Leader Goita Sworn In As President, VP
Retired Army Colonel, Bah N’Daw has been sworn in on Friday as the interim president of Mali and he is to head a transitional government following last month’s military coup in the country.
The swearing-in ceremony held in the country’s capital city of Bamako, where Colonel Assimi Goita, who led the military junta, was also sworn in as interim vice president.
This administration is to lead the government for a maximum of 18 months before organising national elections.
It will be recalled that the country’s military executed a coup last month (August 18) which successfully removed the nation’s president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita from office.
Former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, attended the ceremony alongside other members of the ECOWAS mediation team.
Today, we witnessed the swearing-in of His Excellency Mr. Bah N'daw and Colonel Assimi Goita as President and Vice President of Mali's Transition Govt. The #Ecowas mediation team congratulates these new Malian leaders and wish them success.
– GEJ pic.twitter.com/TQ9kinviQN
— Goodluck E. Jonathan (@GEJonathan) September 25, 2020
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