Say ‘Yes’ for Kim
On March 9th 2014, North Korean people lined up to cast their votes to elect representatives for the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly. At 2:00 P.M. local time, state-run KCNA news agency reported that voter turnout was a whopping 91 percent. Later, in the evening, the percentage turned to 100 (that means all electors registered on the lists of voters went to the polls). If there is a prize for bizarre election methods, then North Korea will definitely win one. An election is usually seen as a contest between two or more parties, where people have the right to choose their favorite candidates. North Korea is a four party state (don’t bother with their long-winded titles). But, in reality, only one party matters: Kim Jong-un’s Workers’ Party of Korea. Then, why bother having these parties? Well, to show North Korea, to the rest of the world, as a parliamentary democracy.
In each district, one candidate from Workers Party will contest. The people are duty is to line up and votes ‘Yes’ (for him) or ‘No’ (against). However, the choice is only a mirage. There is no secrecy in voting places. If a North Korean must vote ‘No’, he must post his vote into a separate ballot box. Casting ‘No’ vote is also seen as a dangerous act of treason. In this way, the whole population chooses 687 representatives for the rubber-stamp parliament, which convenes very rarely. In reality, the supreme leader Kim Jong Un takes all the major or minor decisions, who is supported by small group of consenting senior officials.
Kim Jong-Un became the leader in 2011, after his father’s (Kim Jong Il) death. The rigged elections and the despots’ back-handed compliment to democracy have a more sinister reason. The North Koreans live in a state of panic and fear, and so some people escape their national borders and seek refuge in China or other countries. Nearly, 200,000 North Korean refugees are said to be living in China. After the announcement of elections, tens of thousands of people are said to have returned to North Korea. The reason is definitely not home-sickness. The goal of the elections is to do a head-count. The population head-count, in the name of elections, will reveal how many have fled the country. Most importantly, it will show many members of a particular family have crossed the border as defector. Prior to the elections, if a North Korean refugee has a family member in his country, he will receive a message like this from them: “You will be forgiven by the Party if you come and vote in this election. If you don’t return, we will be banished from the city.”
We all know what ‘banish’ means in a totalitarian government. So, now that man/woman has to cross rivers and mountains to find his way back to North Korea (by crossing the border illegally with great personal risk), before the government checks the list of voters.
There is also some black humor in the ways these elections are held. Kim, more than his country people, has taken the elections seriously. He stands in constituency number 111 (his father stood in 333). He thinks that this particular number would bring him luck to win the elections. George Orwell’s ‘1984’ vision can be best seen through the propaganda of state-run media, KCNA. They write a number of poems celebrate voting. Some of the titles of songs are: “The Billows of Emotion and Happiness” and “We Go to Polling Station.” On Election Day, the media covers, soldiers queuing up at polling stations and dancing in unison on the street to festive music.
Next time, when we are annoyed by the electoral procedures or lack of strong candidates, we just need to think about North Koreans, who can’t simply say ‘no’ or choose not to vote.