North Koreans Go to the Polls

For many, it may be a surprise that the people of North Korea go to the polls and cast their votes. Every five years, everyone – at least 99 per cent of the citizens – participates in the “elections” to select members of their legislative body, the Supreme People’s Assembly. On Sunday, March 10, North Koreans bested their record of 99.97 per cent turnout from the 2014 election with a whopping 99.99 per cent. Kim Jong-un’s Worker’s Party got its 687 candidates elected to the Assembly with a 100 per cent approval from voters.

The Assembly is regarded as a rubber-stamp organization that legitimizes the decisions of the Worker’s Party. Similarly, the elections are meant to legitimize the decisions made by the state, and there is no real contest. Voter turnout is an important tool to legitimize the authority of the state, so the North Korean government recalls those working abroad and even reaches out to refugees who have escaped the country, telling them that it is an opportunity to be forgiven. Those who do not participate are immediately labeled as political criminals. Further, according to refugees from North Korea, members of the State Security Department watch over voters casting their ballots, which make it literally impossible to not vote for the candidates from the Worker’s Party. In this context, this year’s election saw a 99.99 per cent turnout (excluding those “abroad or working in oceans”) and 100 per cent support for the candidates from the Worker’s Party, which the state media attributed to “the absolute support and trust of all voters in the DPRK government.”

Surprisingly, Kim Jong-un was not on the list of the 687 newly-elected members of the Assembly. North Korea observers have attributed to this Kim’s attempt to portray his government as a ‘normal state’ to the international community with a seeming separation of power between different branches of the government. However, Kim’s sister and close aide, Kim Yo-jong, was elected to the Assembly for the first time, underscoring her growing influence within the administration.