SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea announced on Tuesday the winners of an election to its Supreme People’s Assembly, including a senior army man whose re-election will dispel talk that he had been purged by leader Kim Jong Un.
Since Kim executed his powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek in December for treason speculation has been rife that the young leader was running a ruthless campaign to purge the secretive state’s old elite.
The voting held on Sunday was no contest, with one state approved candidate for each of the 687 seats in an assembly that only sits a couple of times a year to rubberstamp decisions taken by the leadership.
The list of winners, however, did offer a glimpse of who was in favor, and who has lost out since the 31-year-old Kim succeeded his late father, Kim Jong Il in late 2011.
The re-election of Choe Ryong Hae, the political chief of the North’s military, and the man generally considered only second in rank to Kim, laid to rest talk that he may have run foul of the young leader.
Kim’s aunt Kyong Hui, widow to the executed Jang and daughter of state founder Kim Il Sung, was also re-elected despite having been absent from public view since her husband’s execution.
Her disappearance had sparked speculation that she may have been removed from the powerful ruling Workers’ Party politburo and stripped of other official posts following her husband’s downfall.
For all the talk of a shake up in the old guard and competing factions around Kim becoming destabilizing forces, the assembly election result appeared to herald little in the way of policy change.
A handful of officials who have appeared close to Kim, based on the North’s official media coverage, were elected to the assembly for the first time, reflecting their rising stock.
Ma Won Chun, a vice director of the secretive Finance and Accounting Department in the ruling party who, according to South Korean experts, has long managed the North’s money, was elected for the first time.
Jang Jong Nam, the Minister of People’s Armed Forces and believed to be one of Kim’s close aides, was also elected, along with Hwang Pyong So, a deputy director of the party’s powerful Organisational Guidance Department.
The North’s official KCNA news agency reported a virtually 100-percent turnout and said the chosen candidates received 100 percent support from voters.
“This is an expression of the absolute support and trust of all voters in the DPRK government, the genuine people’s power which serves the people and relies on them,” KCNA said on Tuesday. DPRK is short for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Kim’s own election to the assembly was announced on Monday. The assembly convenes twice a year to formally approve the national budget and appointments of key personnel.
The South Korean government did not detect any great shifts, despite the prospect of some reshuffle in the North’s bureaucracy following the assembly results.
“There are signs of some uncertainty in the longer term,” Ryoo Kihl-jae, the South’s top policymaker on ties with the North, told a forum on Tuesday. “But it’s the (South Korean) government’s view that there is no immediate sign of change.”
Reporting by Jack Kim and Ju-min Park; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore