On Sunday, Kim Jong-un, who is the leader of North Korea held the country’s first election to parliament since he assumed power almost three years ago. This vote to elect representatives to the Supreme People’s Assembly(SPA) is only a formality and not a real election. This is because for each constituency there is only one candidate who runs unopposed. These candidates have already been selected and approved by the ruling elite. This is a process that completely excludes the ability of the common voter to exercise their franchise in North Korea.
Even though voters have the choice to vote “Yes” or “No” on the ballot for this rubber stamp election, nobody votes “No.” Doing so would earn you the wrath of none other than Kim Jong-un himself. Under this military dictatorship, dissent often has fatal consequences. A more serious crime for the average North Korean would be to abstain from voting. It is almost impossible to get a leave of absence for the SPA elections. This time there have been special mobile ballots set up for the old and infirm. Voting is mandatory for all North Korean citizens and the elections often serve as a census for the government.
Five years ago, elections under Mr. Kim’s father Kim Jong-il, had 100 percent of all candidates from 687 districts elected unopposed. This was with the participation of 99.8 percent of all registered voters. Likewise, the first election to parliament under the rule of Kim Jong-un , is expected to have the exact same result. Following the tradition of his father, he will contest from constituency 111 of Mount Paekdu. This is an active volcano and is considered to be the holiest place in North Korea. According to the country’s official propaganda Kim Jong-il was born on the its slopes.
Official news reports from North Korea describe the citizens of the country to be “overjoyed,” over having to cast their votes. The national television has screened street scenes throughout the nation where people are depicted to be in a celebratory mood. Hundreds of people are shown to be dancing in the street as they wear their traditional attire and sing patriotic songs. The state media trumps the mood up by playing songs and poems about patriotism and the importance of voting.
In reality these rubber stamp elections give the North Korean government a chance to spy and watch over its people. This is the time when deserters are nabbed and are subjected to the most cruel punishment. Families and friends of these deserters are not spared. Last year it is estimated that around 1500 escaped into South Korea through China. Another important reason for why Kim Jong-un has declared elections is so that he can get rid of those representatives who were loyal to Jang Song-thaek, his late uncle. Recently Mr. Kim tried Jang for sedition and had his uncle executed. Under his reign, as Kim Jong-un holds the first parliament election, he will finally have an opportunity to solidify his position as supreme leader of North Korea by getting rid of those he suspected of being detractors and replacing them with handpicked loyalists.
Opinion By Unni K. Nair