North Korea Conducts Yet Another 'Meaningless' Election

A commentary by Andrei Lankov
2014-03-25
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un casts his ballot in an election widely regarded as a sham, March 9, 2014
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un casts his ballot in an election widely regarded as a sham, March 9, 2014
AFP

On March 9th, the North Korean Supreme People's Assembly elections were held. It was reported that the participation rate was 99.97% and 100% of the vote went to Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader.

While the voter participation rate may be lower than this because of defectors and those overseas for business, but I believe that the reported percentage of the vote going to Kim Jong Un is a trustworthy figure.

This is because in reality voting against a single candidate appointed by the authorities is a meaningless gesture.

Now, the newly elected assembly members will meet in Pyongyang shortly and will automatically pass every law sent down from the Party and government. They are  not different from a rubber-stamp congress. They do not need to know the content of the law or anything about politics. Simply knowing how to raise their hands is enough.

Of course, amongst them there are probably good and smart people, but they have no influence on North Korean politics.

It is an open secret that the Supreme People's Assembly, which is regarded as North Korea's legislative body, is the least influential legislative body in the world and its electoral process is nothing more than political theater.

Regardless, the North Korean government has conducted these kinds of meaningless elections every four to five years over the past 70 years.

Emulating Stalin

North Korea learned how to conduct such elections from Stalin's Soviet Union. During Stalin's reign of dictatorship, the Soviet Union conducted these kinds of elections regularly.

So, then, why is it that North Korea as well as the former Soviet Union had to hold these kinds of elections?  

The basic reason for this was contradictions within the dominating class.

North Korea can be considered a kingdom ruled by an absolute monarch. The Kim clan has been the dominating power in North Korea over several generations since the late 1940s, and high-ranking cadre positions have been dominated by the children of high-ranking officials from the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il periods.

Family background

Another reason is due to the fact that North Korea's current situation is completely different from the ideology espoused by their leaders. Looking at North Korea's official documents, there is no mention of a cadre management system centered around songbun (family background), and there is nothing stating that someone outside the Kim clan cannot become the Supreme Leader.

They claim North Korea is a "republic," so they need elections to legitimize their claim.

Furthermore, elections are needed to demonstrate that the North Korean people completely support their government and that the government decides policies through a democratic process.

That being said, the ruling class and the people know, of course, that these claims are not true.

However, no one, from the smallest child to the oldest man, acknowledges this fact publicly, because ideology that serves as the basis of the North Korean state may start to waver if they did.  

Translated by Robert Lauler.

Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, is a Russian historian, North Korea expert, and regular RFA contributor.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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