Wednesday 16 October 2019

North Koreans vote in poll but winners are already known

Voting with their feet: North Koreans dance during election day at a polling station in Pyongyang. AP photo
Voting with their feet: North Koreans dance during election day at a polling station in Pyongyang. AP photo

Eric Talmadge in Pyongyang

Millions of North Korean voters, including leader Kim Jong-un, went to the polls yesterday to elect a new line-up of 700 members for the next session of the national legislature.

Voters were presented with just one state-sanctioned candidate per seat and cast their ballots not to select but rather to show their approval or, at least theoretically, disapproval of that candidate.

The elections, last held in 2014, are for the entire Supreme People's Assembly, which on paper is the highest organ of power in North Korea. Its delegates come from all over the country and all walks of life. The candidates are selected by the ruling Korean Workers' Party and a couple of other smaller coalition parties that have seats in the assembly.

Mr Kim, fresh off his trip to Hanoi for his second summit with US President Donald Trump, is a member of the assembly, though his power rests in his complete control over the ruling party, government and military. State media showed footage of him casting his vote at a polling centre at Pyongyang's Kim Chaek University of Technology.

As was the custom in the Soviet Union and other communist countries, turnout is generally reported at 99pc or higher. Voting is generally regarded as a duty and responsibility. Simply staying at home is not an option.

"I'm very proud to be voting for the first time," said 19-year-old university student Kim Ju Gyong, who cast her vote yesterday morning at the Pyongyang Primary School No 4 polling station. "I feel happy to be a citizen and I want to do my best for the future of my country."

Leading by example: Kim Jong-un casts his vote. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
Leading by example: Kim Jong-un casts his vote. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Under North Korean law, citizens can vote from the age of 17.

Voting began about 10am depending on the location and continued until late evening. Voters showed election officials their ID cards to get their ballot with the sole candidate's name on it, which they cast in a private booth.

If they approved, they simply put the ballot in the box. If they didn't, they cross the name out and put it in the same box.

But one official explained that such a thing rarely happens. "No one votes against the candidate," said Jin Ki Chol, the chairman of an election committee supervising a polling station at a cable factory in central Pyongyang.

Election days have a festive mood. Bands play music as voters wait in line, and there is group dancing for those who have already finished.

"The election will strikingly manifest the fixed will of our people to firmly trust and uphold to the last Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un despite storm and stress," the ruling party's official daily said yesterday.

The number of deputies in the assembly is based on population - each represents from 30,000-35,000 people.

Officials at two polling stations visited said they were not sure of the exact number this year, or when the results would be announced. Five years ago, 687 deputies were elected and the results, despite being a foregone conclusion, were announced two days after the vote.

The elections are not intended to foster policy debates among the population or for the voters to change the nation's course from the bottom up.

But for the authorities, they provide a veneer of democracy and a means of monitoring the whereabouts and loyalties of citizens.

Irish Independent

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