Skip to main content

North Korean election provides clues to reclusive Stalinist state

By Peter Shadbolt, CNN
updated 1:21 PM EST, Fri March 7, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • North Koreans head to polls on March 9 to vote for deputies in the Supreme People's Assembly
  • Critics say the poll is merely a political show to legitimize the country's rubber stamp parliament
  • In previous elections in 2009, Kim Jong-il was returned with 100% of the vote
  • Vote is of interest to Pyongyang watchers keen to know the composition of the ruling party

(CNN) -- Reading the official website of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and you would be forgiven for thinking the reclusive Stalinist state was the Cayman Islands of East Asia.

No taxes, zero unemployment and a performance-related reward-for-labor bonus regime, North Korea touts itself as having "a people-centered social system in which the masses of the working people are the masters of everything and everything in society serves them."

This Sunday, North Koreans will be required to show their assent for this political system at general elections universally expected to return the current incumbent Kim Jong Un.

"Constituencies and sub-constituencies are crowded with citizens confirming their names on voter rolls," the state-run news agency KCNA said in a report. "Now the Korean people are fully determined to highly exalt the DPRK's dignity and demonstrate once again the might of single-minded unity by casting ballots for their candidates."

Political show

While critics say the poll is merely a political show to legitimize the country's rubber stamp parliament -- previous elections in 2009 returned Kim Jong il (Kim Jong Un's predecessor and father) with a 100% mandate on a 99.98% turnout -- observers will be poring over the list of legislators for clues as to how Kim will govern the Communist nation over the next five years.

In an undated photo released on November 28, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un is seen on a field trip to see the airwomen of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force. North Korean Newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported Kim "guided a flight drill of pursuit airwomen of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force. He went out to an airport's runway to learn about the plan for solo take-off and landing drill by women pilots of pursuit planes and guide their flight." In an undated photo released on November 28, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un is seen on a field trip to see the airwomen of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force. North Korean Newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported Kim "guided a flight drill of pursuit airwomen of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force. He went out to an airport's runway to learn about the plan for solo take-off and landing drill by women pilots of pursuit planes and guide their flight."
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Kim Jong Un\'s military Photos: Kim Jong Un's military
Passenger jet flies through missile's path
North Korea frees Australian missionary

Kim himself is running for a seat in the Paekusan Constituency No.111; significant because the numbers are regarded as auspicious in Korean culture and because North Korea claims Mount Paektu, located in Paekusan on the border with China, to be the legendary birthplace of his father.

The ruling Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland holds all 687 seats within the Supreme People's Assembly and voters have only one candidate to vote for in each of the seats.

While the umbrella grouping officially contains four parties -- the Workers' Party of Korea, the Korean Social Democratic Party, the Cheondoist Chongu Party and the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan -- all candidates must be sanctioned by the party including three independents currently sitting as deputies in the assembly.

De facto census

While it is possible for a voter to cast a ballot against a candidate, they must walk to a special booth to do so. Critics say few are brave enough to cross out the name on the ballot.

According to one defector, Mina Yoon, the elections serve as a de facto census at a time when many North Koreans have slipped over the border to China.

"The government checks the list of voters and if your name is not on the list, they will investigate it," Yoon told the Telegraph newspaper. "It is often during elections that the government finds out about defectors and people who have been missed."

Do 100% of Americans vote for their current American president? Never, so to North Korea the American government is far less popular, far less democratic
Prof. Andrei Lankov

Andrei Lankov, a North Korean expert from Kookmin University in Seoul, said the sole purpose of elections in North Korea was to legitimize the regime.

"It's a bad analogy, and maybe you shouldn't compare any acting leader to Hitler, but Hitler also had elections," Lankov told CNN. "Officially North Korea is a republic and you are supposed to have elections.

"Stalin had elections, Kim Il Sung had elections, why not Kim Jong Un? It's a way to legitimize (itself), to show that 99% of all registered voters came to vote and all of them -- 100% -- voted for the regime, therefore we are the world's most popular government.

"Do 100% of Americans vote for their current American president? Never, so to North Korea the American government is far less popular, far less democratic."

Who's in, out?

He said that while the Supreme People's Assembly was little more than a sham election, it was still be of interest to Pyongyang watchers keen to know the composition of the ruling party.

"It will give us some new names and the absence of some names will be equally important," he said.

"We will see who is losing power and who is gaining power because according to their unspoken tradition, the top 200 people or so are always by default members of the Supreme People's Assembly."

Analysts will also be keenly watching for signs that supporters of Jang Song Thaek, Kim's once-powerful uncle who was executed in December for treason, have been eliminated or sidelined in the elections.

READ: Uncertainty still dominates on Korean peninsula

READ: North Korea frees Australian missionary

READ: North Korea: 'We were forced to eat grass and soil

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 1:49 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
A defector from the North Korean government says the country's cyberwarfare is more dangerous than its nuclear weaponry.
updated 8:27 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
North Korea warns the United States that U.S. "citadels" will be attacked, dwarfing the hacking attack on Sony that led to the cancellation of a comedy film's release.
updated 10:43 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
North Korea's fury over the movie comedy "The Interview" appears to have taken the secretive state's oversensitivity to new extremes.
updated 8:57 PM EST, Mon December 8, 2014
A retired Silicon Valley executive and Korean War veteran was hauled off his plane at Pyongyang in 2013. Here's what happened next.
updated 5:57 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
A recent defector from North Korea tells of the harrowing escape into China via Chinese 'snakehead' gangs.
updated 7:39 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
CNN's Amara Walker speaks to a former North Korean prison guard about the abuses he witnessed and was forced to enact on prisoners.
updated 12:59 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
The chief of the Commission of Inquiry into North Korea's human rights says the world can no longer plead ignorance to the regime's offenses.
updated 7:34 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Kim Jong Il's former bodyguard tells of the beatings and starvation he endured while imprisoned in the country's most notorious prison camp.
updated 1:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
Despite tense relations, China benefits from Kim Jong Un's rule in North Korea. David McKenzie explains.
updated 4:51 AM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
North Korea has "the world's most advantageous human rights system" and citizens have "priceless political integrity", the country declared.
ADVERTISEMENT