North Koreans voted on Sunday in elections for a new parliament which analysts say could lay the groundwork for a transition of power in the impoverished communist state, news agencies reported.
Elections for the rubber-stamp parliament did not take place in 2008 after its five-year term expired amid fevered speculation about the state of health of reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency and China's Xinhua both quoted state media in the North as confirming the scheduled start of voting.
Officials in Seoul and Washington say Kim has made a good recovery from his stroke in August last year and is still in control of his country.
The 67-year-old is standing for election in a military constituency in the vote for the 12th Supreme People's Assembly, the North's state media reported earlier.
Kim inherited power from his father, Kim Il-Sung, in the communist world's only dynastic succession. But it is unclear whether he wants one of his three sons to succeed him -- and if so, which one.
Yonhap has said, quoting unnamed sources, that Kim has named his third and youngest son, Jong-Un, as his successor and that the 25-year-old is running in the election.
The outcome of the election is not in doubt -- candidates are picked by the government or ruling party, and only one stands in each district.
The incoming assembly will re-elect Kim as chairman of the National Defence Commission, which oversees the 1.1 million-strong military and is the North's most powerful organ.
A new parliament is also often the prelude to a cabinet reshuffle.
In the previous polls in 2003, state media boasted of a 99.9 per cent voter turnout and 100 per cent support for every candidate.