North Korea Goes To The polls – With One Candidate To Choose From

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un

At the end of this week, Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s young leader, is standing for election.

His constituency is Mount Paektu, the holy mountain on the Chinese border where his father, according to legend, was born.

But voters will not have any choice; Kim’s name will be the only one on the ballot.

Indeed, across North Korea, all voting slips will carry a single name: the candidate endorsed by the Workers’ Party.

It is possible to vote no, for anyone brave enough to walk to a special booth and cross out the name on the ballot.

But elections are a time when everyone is watching for acts of defiance. “There are consequences such as being politically criticised or restricted,” said Mina Yoon, a defector who smuggled herself out of North Korea in 2011.

There is always the possibility of the labour camp.

Election day is not a time for North Koreans to express their views, said another defector, Jihoon Park.

“The North does not teach students about why elections are important in school. The people have no idea about having a right to vote,” he said.

Instead, it is another occasion for patriotic education. At rallies, “the government makes people gather in the square and shout slogans, like ‘Let’s drive out the US army from South Korea!’,” said Ms Yoon.

Voters are herded to the polling stations by the head of their inminban, or neighbourhood committee. Posters urge them to “all vote for the candidate”, and voters pay a deep bow to portraits of the Kim family.

While the Workers’ Party is often described as the ruling power, North Korea actually has three other political groups in its legislature, combining to form a “Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland”.

The elections also serve as a census, in a country where many have slipped across the border to China.

“The government checks the list of voters and if your name is not on the list, they will investigate it,” said Ms Yoon.

“It is often during election that the government finds out about defectors and people who have been missed”.

Since the collapse of the state food distribution system during the famine of the 1990s, old ways of keeping tracks of citizens no longer work. The neighbourhood committees used to keep an eye on people, but now that North Koreans move around the country without a pass, “there is no way to check them”.

To vote, North Koreans need to register one month in advance. “Those who left town for business reasons are supposed to come back,” said Ms Yoon.

“Defectors in China risk their lives to come back to North Korea because they are afraid that if the government works out they are missing, there could be harm to their family or loved ones.”

Afterwards, she added: “Those who got used to the life in China, which is better than the one in NK, tend to escape again.”

Kim Jong-un will be hoping to emulate his father’s feat in the 2009 election. In district 333, where Kim Jong-il ran, the Dear Leader won every vote.

“This is the expression of all servicepersons’ and people’s absolute support and profound trust in Kim Jong-il,” said the state KCNA news agency.

The Telegraph

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