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North Korean defector stands for South Korean election

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
updated 1:49 AM EDT, Wed April 11, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cho Myung-chul hopes to become first North Korean in South Korean parliament
  • Cho defected from the North and wants to help the South form a better Pyongyang policy
  • South Koreans head to the polls on Wednesday for parliamentary elections

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- Cho Myung-chul remembers what it was like to vote in North Korea.

"They have a little piece of paper and a pencil right next to it. If you don't like the candidate you can pick up the pencil and cross the name off, but the person who picks up the pencil will die. There is always someone watching outside and of course there is only one candidate."

The idea of a free election seemed impossible to Cho Myung-chul before he defected. But he is now hoping to become the first North Korean in the South Korean parliament.

South Koreans head to polls on Wednesday

He stands a fair chance of being elected, number four of 46 proportional representative candidates for the ruling Saenuri party. He asks CNN, "Can you imagine the shock of all my former colleagues and school friends in North Korea if I get a place in the National Assembly?"

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Cho was a professor in North Korea and was among the elite, meaning his life was far more bearable than others. He says that South Koreans don't really know how dire life can be for many in the North and how bad the human rights situation is.

"They understand in an abstract sense that something is not right, but they don't have actual knowledge of life there." That is one reason he has entered politics, to help the conservative party form a better policy when dealing with Pyongyang.

Cho describes the difficulties he found when first trying to assimilate into South Korean life. He found it very difficult to cope, saying, "Living here I had to re-learn everything from the beginning. There was only one thing we had in common, the language and other than that, the gap was huge."

The Korean peninsula was split in 1953 when an armistice was signed after a bloody war. The two sides have never signed a peace agreement. South Korea has since grown to become Asia's fourth largest economy whereas North Korea struggles to feed its own people, asking the international community for food and monetary aid.

Cho acknowledges many defectors find it hard to adapt and says the government has to do more to help. "There are around 23,000 North Korean defectors here now. These people are the pioneers of unification, they have to be able to settle here and succeed. If you can't reunify with this small group of people, you have no chance with 23 million people in North Korea."

Cho will find out Wednesday if his parliamentary election bid is successful as South Koreans head to the polls.

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