Polling stations have opened in North Korea as voters started to approve their first national council in five years amid a holiday atmosphere. 

Sunday's election doubles as a national headcount and may offer clues to power shifts in Pyongyang, AFP news agency reported.

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 percent as of 2pm (05:00 GMT).

Those who are ill or infirm and cannot travel to polling stations are casting votes at special "mobile ballot boxes," it added.

Apart from the physical casting of votes, there is nothing democratic about the ballot, with only one approved candidate standing for each of the 687 districts.

State newspapers on Sunday stressed it was the duty of "every single person" to vote in the poll.

The Rodong Sinmun said the election would promote North Korea as a "dignified, prosperous and strong socialist powerhouse".

Established names

State-run media have in recent weeks stepped up efforts 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".

It was the first election to the SPA under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un, 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, 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.

Elections are normally held every five years to the SPA, which only meets once or twice a year, mostly for a day-long session, to rubber-stamp 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 Kim's government.

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.

Source: AFP