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Kim urges NKoreans to vote in "significant" poll

Leader Kim Jong-Il has encouraged North Koreans to vote in upcoming parliamentary elections seen by some analysts as laying the groundwork for an eventual power transition.

world Updated: Feb 18, 2009 22:17 IST

Leader Kim Jong-Il has encouraged North Koreans to vote in upcoming parliamentary elections seen by some analysts as laying the groundwork for an eventual power transition.

"The forthcoming election will exalt the dignity and authority of our socialist country," the 67-year-old leader said in an open letter to citizens, according to state media on Wednesday.

The outcome of the March 8 elections is a foregone conclusion, with the ruling communist party appointing only one candidate in each district.

But the inauguration of a new Supreme People's Assembly is customarily the prelude to a cabinet reshuffle.

The North failed to hold the election last autumn amid reports that Kim suffered a stroke in August.

In recent months he has made a series of inspection visits -- mostly to factories and military facilities -- and greeted a visiting Chinese official, in an apparent attempt to show he is recovered and fully in charge.

But rumours are growing about his preference for an eventual successor.

Kim, in the letter quoted by the official Korean Central News Agency, called the poll "significant" in terms of reviving the economy by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of founding president and Kim's father Kim Il-Sung.

"The election to the 12th Supreme People's Assembly is all the more significant in that it is to be held in a pulsating period where a fresh revolutionary upsurge is being brought about on all fronts of the building of a great, prosperous and powerful country," Kim said.

The leader, who has cemented ties to the powerful armed forces through a Songun (army first) policy, said he has decided to run in the 333rd military constituency.

South Korea's state-backed Institute for National Security Strategy has said the North would use the polls to retire elderly politicians and bring in people with specialist knowledge, in an attempt to revive the moribund economy.

The private Institute for Far Eastern Studies says the "ailing Kim will further strengthen his grasp on the regime" through the poll.

The new assembly will re-elect Kim as chairman of the National Defence Commission, which supervises the 1.1 million member military and is the country's most powerful organ.

"It is also expected that the election will be used to help establish the groundwork for a stable transition of power in the future," IFES said in a recent report.

Seoul's Yonhap news agency has reported that Kim has named his third and youngest son, 25-year-old Kim Jong-Un, as his eventual successor. Japanese daily Mainichi Shimbun carried a similar report on Tuesday.

Kim Jong-Il took over after his father died in 1994 but had been groomed for the role for two decades. There have been no public indications in the past that one of his sons was being prepared for the succession.

Some analysts believe a collective military-party leadership will emerge if Kim dies or becomes incapacitated, with one of the sons as a figurehead leader.

The North's state media had hailed the upcoming election as "fair and above-board."

In the last elections for 687 delegates in 2003, its media said turnout was 99.9 per cent and registered candidates got 100 per cent approval.

In 1999 a mere 99.85 per cent turned out but the outcome was the same.

First Published: Feb 18, 2009 22:16 IST