| The polls are being viewed as a procedure for Kim Jong-il to strengthen the position of his son and heir [Reuters]
North Koreans went to the polls for the first time in four years to take part in what analysts say is a rubber-stamp election for members of the local assemblies.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency said on Sunday that local assembly elections began across the country as songs reverberated and flags fluttered over polling stations crowded with voters.
The local assemblies meet around once or twice a year to approve budgets and regional leaders appointed by the party.
The local elections are widely seen as a step to help strengthen the leader Kim Jong-il's hereditary succession by securing the power base for his third son Kim Jong-un.
Little is known about Kim Jong-un. He is said to be in his late twenties and was unveiled as a four-star general last September, despite having no previous military experience.
His first public appearance was in October last year when he attended the ruling Workers' Party's 65th anniversary celebration.
This was seen as fully confirming his position as the next leader of the Workers' Party, with unprecedented international press access granted to the event.
Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at City University in Hong Kong, said the local election in North Korea was a measure for local authorities "to monitor grassroots activities" and an exercise to pave the way for the leadership succession process.
"This gives an opportunity for the local officials to monitor grassroots activities as well as support for the regime," said Cheng.
Cheng said the local election could be regarded as a step preceding elections of the Supreme People's Assembly which, in turn, will select the country's leader.
"It's speculated that this election exercise may facilitate symbolic support for the leadership succession process," Cheng said.